UuDam Tran Nguyen works across video, performance, photography, sculpture and new media. In his practice he often draws on urban myths and popular legend to explore social concerns as well as the role and impact of human progress on rural and urban spaces in contemporary Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Alongside his artistic practice, he is also co-founder of the experimental art magazine XEM. Nguyen’s works have been presented at exhibitions including TIME BOOMERANG California Edition – From S.E.A. Sea Atolls to the Next Dead Stars, Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, United States (2019); Bodies of Water: 12th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, China (2019) and Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, Mori Art Museum and The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (2017). He is also a recipient of the Jury Selection Prize at the 18th Japan Media Arts Festival (2015).
In each iteration of LICENSE 2 DRAW, Nguyen has further developed the robot drawing machine or added new facets to the installation. At Koganecho Bazaar, three sculptural works—One Target, Two Targets, and 3 Targets: I wanna take care of your Zen Garden could also be controlled by the LICENSE 2 DRAW app. Each time a LICENSE 2 DRAW user pressed a button on their smartphones, it would send a signal to a cloud server in Singapore that would then direct the signal to mechanical arms holding crayons or plastic brushes that drew circles on wood, plexiglass or sand. Each sculpture was accompanied by an IP camera that allowed viewers to see their actions from afar. The exhibition at Factory Contemporary Art Center, Ho Chi Minh City in 2016 included the SAIGON EVOLUTION 2 robot that incorporated laser crosshair in the drawing robot. For this exhibition in Vietnam, Nguyen also created the License 2 Draw: Laser Target Shooting where users of the L2D mobile application can shoot laser beams at the surface of a paper target. The laser beams would either burn holes in the paper or by chance light a match and burn the whole sheet. For APT8 kids as part of the 8th Asia
Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, Nguyen created the multimedia activity Draw 2 Connect with License 2 Draw, which has been made available on the Gallery’s website. Reminiscent to a video game, users can access a programme online to draw and interact with other players around the world.
Integral to LICENSE 2 DRAW is that remote users would be able to view the developments of their drawings. Speaking in the context of the LICENSE 2 DRAW installation at the Singapore Art Museum, Nguyen shares the use of numerous Bosch CCTV cameras to track each move of the LICENSE 2 DRAW robot. As access is required throughout the day for four months, Bosch Starlight super light-sensitive cameras played a pivotal role in allowing remote audiences to experience the drawing and movement of the robot for a multitude of perspectives and their ability to record fast-moving objects precisely, and even in low lighting conditions. LICENSE 2 DRAW at the Singapore Art Museum marked the second collaboration between the artist and Bosch. The first of which was for LICENSE 2 DRAW in the exhibition Undefined Boundaries at Heritage Space in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Shown in the context of art festivals and exhibitions, Nguyen’s development of LICENSE 2 DRAW has been supported by institutional organisations. Backgrounding the work’s success is a group of software, hardware and server engineers as well as two graphic designers. Collaboration with individuals working across various fields is integral in managing the complex technologies that make it possible for a smartphone to control and access a seven kilogram drawing robot from anywhere in the world, lasers as well as mechanical arms; as well as design the interface for the mobile application which was available for free on Google Play Store and Apple iTunes Store.
The significance of UuDam Tran Nguyen’sLICENSE 2 DRAW is best appreciated through its ability to surface
variety of issues. The artist took as a starting point the duplicitous aspects of drone technology in remote warfare to instead devise a creative space in LICENSE 2 DRAW. The work creates an opportunity for its global network of users to gather and create something physical in a space. Being able to view the drawing machine in real-time as it executed lines on the canvas or move and alter sculptures demonstrates the internet's ability to instantly connect people. The work transcends borders and boundaries, and during the presentation of LICENSE 2 DRAWat Singapore Art Museum in 2017, it was recorded that at one moment, there were a total of 221 current players on the application across Vietnam and Singapore and a total of more than 3700 users.
In addition to drones and remote-controlled systems, the oblique associations between military and technology developments that background the work are fascinating. The work makes apparent the ways technologies have often been developed by the military and later find their way into civilian life. For example, the digital camera and microwave technology have become commonplace everyday objects that have granted great convenience in everyday life. Similarly, the internet was initially developed for military purposes by the United States to maintain its nearly 800 bases in more than 70 countries. Likewise, the once controversial drones connected with espionage, surveillance and intelligence gathering are now available commercially and often used for a variety of personal and hobby usage.
While iterations of the work were conceived and presented before the Covid-19 pandemic, LICENSE 2 DRAW gains added significance in a time when digital spheres have gained tremendous importance in our lives. As screens and the internet increasingly mediate the ways we live, work and community,LICENSE 2 DRAW makes visible the connections linking a click of a button and its physical impacts, which are often rendered invisible.
Moreover in 2014, Nguyen received the Jury Selection Prize for LICENSE 2 DRAW in the 18th Japan Media Arts Festival out of a total of 1,877 entries in its category demonstrating the artist’s innovative use of technology and media arts.
LICENSE 2 DRAWalso embodies a universal and educational appeal. Its relevance to comprehending the complexity of the internet has led to its inclusion in numerous exhibitions for young audiences and their families to explore contemporary art and ideas. These include a multimedia activity for APT8 Kids as part of the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, Australia (2016) and Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth at the Singapore Art Museum (2017).
All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.