WALTZ OF THE MACHINE EQUESTRIANS
This work was inspired by the movement of the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. Nguyen uses raincoats, clips and rubber strings to connect 28 scooter riders into what appears to be a choreographed 'scooter dance. Seen either as a group of moving tents of a contemporary nomadic tribe, or a test of tensions between an individual and its collective, the streets are transformed into a stage for the scooter dancers.
Waltz of The Machine Equestrians
HD video, 5m, one channel, color, stereo sound
Kadist Art San Francisco Collection, Asia Society Museum Collection, QAGOMA collection, Private collections, Singapore Biennale 2013, Asia Pacific Triennale 8, Yokohama Art Museum,
Lyon Contemporary Museum, Aichi Triennale, High Line Art, Asia Culture Center (Korea), National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, ...
The artist reimagines a heroic celebration of modernity, where rural land was paved for urban roads and the convenience of motorized transportations. The climax, however, occurs when the collective breaks free from their binding structures. This conveys a certain ambivalence towards the present and the anticipation for a different kind of change in the future.
Waltz of the Machine Equestrians evokes a mixed sense of joy, liberation, repression and inner sorrow, enveloped by joyful colors and celebratory music. The Đổi Mới or economic reforms introduced in 1986 in Vietnam seemed to have given hope to the masses.
Today, with the normalization of the capitalistic approach to life and success, it seems to be more possible for an individual to break free from the chains of socialist dogma. Yet in achieving one’s dream, it is also forced to break various bonds with family, society, and even motherland. (NW - 4th Singapore Biennale Catalog)
WALTZ of The MACHINE EQUESTRIANS
“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
- Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point -
For 13 years, I was away studying in the United States. Coming back to Saigon, I dared not ride my own scooter for 3 weeks due to the crazy trafic and not knowing half the new streets. Sitting behind a hired scooter driver during that time gave me a sense of how things have changed and how beautiful and meditative it can be when one can flow with the traffic. Then I began to see the traffic as an exquisite and complex choreographed dance of scooters. Vietnam has changed and so have I.
At 3% annual rate of increase, industrialization has brought more countryside dwellers to big cities like Saigon. Scooters are the main way to get around the city and to the surrounding rural
area. I fantasize the riders and their mechanized “horses” are modern “equestrians.” There is an awesome energy in the air watching columns of thousands of scooters waiting to advance at the signals. It is equally amazing to cross one of the streets and see that river of scooters slowly flows around you. One
senses that these machines symbolize the country’s firm march on the path to be a new Asian “Tiger”. Viet Nam’s industrial production is about to be even with its agricultural production.
The scooters and their riders remind me of the story of Saint Gióng (Thánh Gióng), a Vietnamese folk hero from around 1690 BC. He was conceived when his mom imposed her foot onto a huge footprint she found in the field where she worked. She got pregnant the next day and later delivered a boy. She and her husband were very happy, but the handsome boy did not move,
talk, or smile until he was 3 years old. But one day, upon hearing the news of his country being invaded, he suddenly spoke up, asking for an iron horse that can spit fire, an iron armor and an iron rod. With those, he defeated the invaders and ascended to heaven.
How interesting to think Saint Gióng story might have foreseen Vietnam’s industrial future from nearly 4000 thousand years ago. Now, the new iron horses are the scooters. However, such development and globalization comes with a price. The new visible enemies they now fight with are the gap of poverty between the rich and the poor, pollution of information and dust, natural and man-made heat, and ultra violent storms. These riders also battle noise, toxic rivers, unclean
water and food, and real after effects of far-flung financial disasters. Their iron horses don’t blow fire; instead they spew out smoke. There is no hard iron armor but flexible plastic ponchos, no iron rod but the latest knowledge for the new demands of global economy jobs. The Vietnamese now share the life of people who live in big cities in our contemporary world. This is universal battle happening worldwide in Dubai, Melbourne, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, etc.
In this video and photography works, a group of twenty-eight riders are choreographed to perform against the backdrop of the Ho Chi Minh City skyline. This place (Thu Thiêm) is across from the Saigon River which separates new and the old developments. Thu Thiêm was once a land lush with green water coconut trees, and makeshift thatched cottages. Now, it has changed into big streets and city
parks. Twenty-eight iron horses and their riders ride in formation, maneuvering graceful turns on that very ground. Here, empty streets became a stage; riders transform into performers. Colorful moving shelters of ponchos replace the thatched cottages. They all together became a moving river. The transformation of Viet Nam, from a boy to a man, from a farmer to an
industrial soldier is resonant. Saint Gióng fought against visible invaders. But his new countryman’s heroes will fight with a more difficult and often invisible enemy, themselves. The Vietnamese machine “equestrians”’ fights will continue far into the future, onto the stage of a brave new world.
Saigon - April 2013