INGEN FRYGT with Giang Thi Chi, Giang Thi Say, Ly Thi Za & Lyly Thi: Cheeky Money Lucky Mountain, HANOI FUTURE ART 2009
Ingen Frygt (Without Fear) is the name of the collective consciousness of the artists Anna María Helgadóttir, Hannah Heilmann and Sigrun Gúdbrandsdóttir. Ingen Frygt was invited to Sa Pa in North Vietnam by Hanoi Future Arts to meet with Giang Thi Chi, Giang Thi Say, Ly Thi Za & Lyly Thi, four women of the Black H’Mong mountain tribe, and together make an art project. Having worked extensively with an aesthetic that draws upon exoticism, Ingen Frygt were eager to confront preconceptions and the self-centred programming of their work with a culture that could be expected to be fundamentally different. What does Self look like in a culture believing everything has a soul, and does it affect concepts of gender, of art, of channelling and of material? However the project was lead by other kinds of urgencies, namely the visible and invisible hierarchies inbetween cultures: the relation between the tourists in Sa Pa and the tribe people there, as well as certain romanticisms of the art world. THE BLACK FRYGT H’MONG: Being from each their tribe within in a bigger tribe - the little art tribe of Ingen Frygt within the big art tribe, and the Black H’Mong people, one of several mountain tribes and a minority in Vietnam - the seven women decided to form their own tribe. For two weeks and ongoing they were living together, making clothes, forming rituals and establishing social rules for the new tribe. The unification happened in glimpses, as when dancing to techno at the local bar up in Sa Pa in full makeup and tribe costume, or in general, when the excitement of using ourselves to create pictures took over. But there were differences too. The Black H’Mong women when constructing their clothes would be playing with subtle references, hardly noticeble for an outsider – appropriating male clothing, or ‘forbidden’ colours and symbols from other tribes, whereas Ingen Frygt would be picturing their inner longing to be something more fantastic, or living out the artist’s ever luring feeling of being a colourful bird on display. Also, whereas the H’Mong girls seemed to have a profound understanding of the essence of the project, other parts remained confusing. The constructing of rules and identities to them was childsplay, but why didn’t we, the Westernes with the money, put them to work? Were we loaded with money or not? And what were we making? The much younger H’Mong women would tell us how to eat and how to cross the street, like big babies. Ingen Frygt on the other hand would irrevocably have the superios understanding of what our endproduct was – an art exhibition. BLACK H’MONG AND SA PA: The work took place both in Hanoi (where Giang Thi Say and Ly Thi Za lived), and in Sa Pa. In both places the social position of the H’Mong women was a complicated matter. Sa Pa has become a major tourist spot, turning the mountain tribe’s amazing handicraft and dress into a crazy souvenir market – thus both bringing new wealth and modern life to the region, but also quite violently altering the meaning of their tribal identity. The tribes are known for being open and funloving people, that know quite a bit of English, even if education is scarce. All sympathetic traits, which however also can be milked endlessly in the context of tourism. On top of this, the culture of the tribes is rather patriarcal, but as the good looking young girls are considered better suited to be selling the souvenirs, a certain emancipation of the young generations of women is making itself felt. The young women we were working with were the first of their families to move to Hanoi, wear ecletic clothes, go to school, and to not marry at the age of 15. Finally, the mountain tribes are looked down upon by the Vietnamese. So the collaboration appearently was conceived as a provoking, not least by Hanoi art scene, which is quite conservative. Ironically, being an outsider, Ingen Frygt never felt the differences between H’Mong culture and that of the Vietnamese in depth, an ignorance which, in its own backwards way, was a good platform for empowering rather than framing the H’Mong women as victims. THE EXHIBITION CHEEKY MONEY LUCKY MOUNTAIN: The project resulted in a series of large prints documenting the tribe, picturing essential activities of any community: Sleeping, eating and being. In a second and darker room the tribe members were shown chanting, dancing and making gossip-magic, to a sound track by Lonely Boy Choir. In these huge vinyl prints, size became an obvious carrier of meaning – the H’Mong women blasted up in God-like proportions were for the Vietnamese a surprising claim. The Scandinavian art collective, however, literally always figure just a tad bigger, pointing at the delicate psycology of power stances within the group. Who has agency, who is full of shit, and when? And what makes people truly come together? Following the exhibition Cheeky Money Lucky Mountain, Black Frygt H’Mong also appeared in a group show at Hanoi Future Arts about women in Vietnam, called Bao Luc (violence), with a video documenting a ritual vaguely resembling local Buddhist traditions, in which they loudly sob and burn money. This depressed, yet comical video questions how exchange between cultures sometimes seem to, a little to easily, boil down to trade and money – what are the objectives of the different tribe members? Is it easier to finance an art project by playing on a Western feeling of guilt towards less developed countries? And what’s the interest of four young women, with scarce knowledge about doing art as a career, in participating in a Western art project? Maybe we are not that different – is it that everybody just wants to make a future for themselves, and this needs financing, all the time, every day? Ingen Frygt explore the logics of power and postures of the Self; a “politics of emotions”. One key motif is exoticism as a medium for guilt but also longing. Eating money is another consistent obsession through which Ingen Frygt seek to describe power structures in society unfolding in individual lives. A third is how the Freudian thinking in the West have become a spiritual escape, an unspoken superstition with complex implications of moral-ethics. Maybe an art group is always somehow it’s own first intentional or unintentional piece of artwork. Ingen Frygt wished to examine the performative nature of making art collectively. What began in 2001 as an art group gradually densified into an autonomous and uncontrolled fourth persona. As a last gesture the members of Ingen Frygt were attempting to turn over these speculations in more concrete explorations, submitting themselfes to collective work with other collectives. The project with the Black H’Mong women was part of these last strivings. Since 2010 Ingen Frygt has been void of members.