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'Waltz of the Machine Equestrians - The Machine Equestrians' on view at the RISD Museum
UuDam Tran Nguyen, Waltz of the Machine Equestrians—The Machine Equestrians, 2012 Single-channel video; color, sound, 3 min. Kadist Art Foundation.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- Although artist UuDam Tran Nguyen has lived in Los Angeles for most of the last two decades, Vietnam is never far from his work or his thoughts. In response to the overwhelming—and at times chaotic and amusing—number of motorbikes that populate Vietnam’s urban streets, Nguyen made the single-channel video Waltz of the Machine Equestrians — The Machine Equestrians (2012). The 28 mysterious “equestrians,” connected by thin strings clipped to their brightly colored ponchos, resemble a contemporary band of knights adorned in flimsy armor and pollutant-deterring face masks as they ride in choreographed unison along a Ho Chi Minh City street, the city skyline in the distance. Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s dense but whimsical Suite for Jazz Orchestra no. 2, Waltz no. 2 plays as the group progresses around softly banking turns and through seemingly endless straightaways with a resolute and theatrical determination.

Over the past two decades, Vietnam has, like many Asian countries, lost an incredible amount of natural and rural landscape. Dramatic economic growth and industrial development continue to replace once-bucolic fields with roads and highways, leveling small agrarian communities to make room for massive glass and steel skyscrapers. With each new road and glass tower, Vietnam—still a communist country—embodies the spirit of free-market capitalism as practiced by Western nations. With these changes come advantages and disadvantages that are often complexly intertwined. Economic growth has allowed individuals greater freedom to purchase a growing variety of manufactured goods, imported foods, and new tools of personal freedom such as motorbikes and cars. Simultaneously, the country is experiencing detrimental environmental and social effects, most notably a thickening veil of smog, the loss of traditional cultural practices, and a rise in material and lifestyle conformity. Nguyen found duplicitous and ambivalent beauty in the motorbike-riding population’s extraordinarily dancelike and precipitous choreography, the increasing tensions between the individual and the collective, and the paving over of the natural landscape.

Nguyen lives and works in Vietnam and Los Angeles. He earned a BFA in 1994 from the University of Fine Arts, Saigon, Vietnam; a BA in 2002 from the University of California, Los Angeles; and an MFA in 2005 from the School of Visual Arts, New York. His work explores the ability of art to inspire and affect change in society through subtle interventions in the form of sculpture, sound, installation, painting, video, photography, and performance.

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