GCC

Local Police find fruit with spells
2017
Metal, styrofoam, fiberglass, wood, latex paint, concrete pavers, faux rocks and other materials
Dimensions variable
Installation view: Whitney Biennial 17 March–11 June 2017

Gestures V
2016
Thermoformed styrene with flocking
41 × 65 inches (104.14 × 165.10 cm)
Edition of 3 plus II AP

Installation view: Positive Pathways (+), Berlin Biennale 9

Installation View: L'air du temps, Project Native Informant

Installation view: Positive Pathways (+), Berlin Biennale 9

Installation View: A Wonderful World Under Construction, Sultan Gallery 2015

A Wonderful World Under Construction Billboard
2015
Wood, metal, floodlights, vinyl
350 × 300 × 80 cm (137 ¾" × 118 ⅛" × 31 ½")
Edition of 1 plus I AP

Installation view: Here and Elsewhere, New Museum, New York 2015

Exosphere
2014
Video, projector, speakers, acrylic, carpet, LED lights, fluorescent lights, reading light, fibre optic lights, lycra, plywood veneer, lacquer, MDF, brass, laser engraved crystal, turntable, embossed polyester fabric, paint, metal, polished brass strips, digital image printed on polyester transparency film, ceramic tiles, leather, frosted glass, stretched ceiling fabric
Dimensions variable
Unique

Reception
2014
HD video, 80” flat screen, digital C-print in custom frame, air conditioner, 8 wall clocks and plaques, imitation marble tiles
Dimensions variable
Unique

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective, MoMA/P.S. 1 New York 2014

CO-OP
2014
HD Video
4 mins, 8 secs
Edition of 3 plus II AP

White Stool
2014
C-print
105 × 70 cm (41 ⅜" × 27 ½")
Edition of 3 plus II AP

Installation view: Achievements in Swiss Summit, 2013, Project Native Informant

Installation view: Achievements in Swiss Summit, 2013, Project Native Informant

Chartered Cruise
2013
Rolls Royce Silver Phantom 2013, sound piece: 15 minutes, 42 seconds
Unique

Kuwait Congratulant
2013
Crystal glass, acetate and brass trophy, silk-screened text plexi-glass vitrine with wood pedestal and marble veneer
168 × 50 × 50 cm (66 ⅛" × 19 ⅝" × 19 ⅝")
Unique

A collective consisting of Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Amal Khalaf, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, Fatima Al Qadiri, Khalid al Gharaballi, Monira Al Qadiri and Nanu Al-Hamad.

Founded in 2013

The basic objectives of the GCC are to effect collaboration, transformation and inter-connection between Artists in all fields in order to achieve unity between them:

Being fully aware of the ties of special relations, common characteristics and similar systems founded on the creed of Art which bind them; and

In conformity with the Charter of the Federation of Gulf Artists which calls for the realization of closer relations and stronger bonds; and

Having the conviction that coordination, cooperation, and integration between them serve the sublime objectives of the GCC; and,

In order to channel their efforts to reinforce and serve Gulf and Artistic causes.

CV

GCC

Solo Exhibitions:

2019 Bonner Kunstverein
2016 Positive Pathways (+), Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
2015 Joint Declaration, NICC, Brussels
2015 A Wonderful World Under Construction, Sultan Gallery, Kuwait
2014 GCC: Achievements in Retrospective, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah
2014 Royal Mirage, FIAC with Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Paris
2014 Achievements in Retrospective, MoMA PS1, New York
2013 Ceremonial Achievements, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
2013 A Space for National Achievement, Sultan Gallery, Kuwait

Group Exhibitions:

2018 I Was Raised on the Internet, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
2018 Sharjah Biennial
2016 Frieze Projects, Frieze Art Fair, New York
2016 From Transhuman To South Perspectives, Rowing Gallery, London
2016 Migrating Forms, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
2015 Like the deserts miss the real, Galerie Steinbeck, Vienna
2015 America is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
2015 Sources Go Dark, Future Project, Prague
2015 Accented, Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah
2015 Le Souffleur, Ludwigforum, Aachen
2015 The World in 2015, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing
2014 Thank You, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
2014 Multiply Myself in Order to Feel Myself, Kunstraum Niederösterreich, Vienna
2014 Exosphere, Future Generation Art Price | Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev
2014 Here and Elsewhere, New Museum, New York
2014 Dark Velocity, CCS Bard Hessel Museum, New York
2014 DISown, Redbull Studios, New York
2014 Art Post-Internet, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing
2013 Speculations on Anonymous Materials, Fridericianum, Kassel

Lectures and Talks:

2015 New Top Models: New Forms for Artists’ Collectives, Frieze Talks, New York
2015 Heritage Engineering: A Conversation with GCC, Global Art Forum
2015 Art As Institution, The Armory Show
2014 GCC Collective Lecture, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
2014 Politics without Poetics, NICC, Brussels
2014 Transitions, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris
2013 Artist talk with GCC, Fridericianum, Kassel

PRESS / REVIEWS

17 Nov 2016

GCC :: NATION-MAKING AND THE POWER OF POSITIVITY

GCC’s latest solo show Positive Pathways (+) at Mitchell-Innes and Nash features mixed media installations, thermoformed wall reliefs, and sound works. The show is an elaborate tongue-in- cheek reflection of the Arab Gulf States’ recent investment in New Age spirituality trends, from personal holistic remedies, natural healing energies, and positive life-coaching, to governmental policy making such as implementing Feng Shui techniques in ministry offices and the UAE’s recent forming of a Ministry of Happiness. The regional unrest of the Arab Spring barely scratched the surface of the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries, not withstanding the political protests in Bahrain. Yet, it has curiously manifested into vast resources being funneled into self-branding and positivity propaganda—seemingly at odds with the cultural and religious frameworks of the region.

GCC’s members (or delegates*, as they call themselves) grew up in the Arab Gulf countries (namely Kuwait and Bahrain) but navigate highly mobile itineraries that can be followed through their social media accounts. They formed as a collective in 2013 during a visit to Art Dubai’s VIP lounge. In their recent talk at Anthology Film Archives, the group mentioned that becoming a collective was almost happenstance: border control personnel in Dubai had asked them if they were traveling together as a band. Rarely together in the same place, their creative process takes place largely through mobile applications such as Whatsapp.

The acronym GCC loosely references the Gulf Cooperation Council, an intergovernmental union that binds together the Arab Gulf States. According to the group, it also provides them with a layer of opacity. In an interview with Christopher Y. Lew, who in 2014 curated their first US show Achievements in Retrospective at MoMA PS1, they suggested that GCC could mean anything, such as “Glendale Community College or Grupos Cementos de Chihuahua. It gives us a bit of a shield so that we are not just referencing political bodies.”

One of the works of Positive Pathways (+) revisits an installation shown earlier this summer at the Berlin Biennale. Titled Positive Pathways (+) (Version II), it features a plaster sculpture of a woman (wearing a hijab and typical hijab attire) performing a Quantum Touch exercise—a non- contact touch therapy —on a young boy in front of her. They are surrounded by sand, and a running track, a reference to the designated walking areas for exercise common in some Arab Gulf countries. As alternative healing methods such as Quantum Touch and Reiki gain popularity in the Middle East, they have been coopted into everyday life, practiced and endorsed by everyone from government officials to dilettante practitioners and housewives on Instagram.

The exhibition features a number of thermoformed wall reliefs titled Gestures (I-V) that are covered with a brazen red, velvety surface. The complex industrial process of thermoforming plastic is eclipsed by the banality of the images on the reliefs. TV presenters, audiences and random hand gestures, based on stills from YouTube, are placed against different backdrops including columns, plant pots, and dissonant phrases in Arabic and English. For example, Gestures I presents us with an image of a man wearing traditional headgear set against a backdrop of Grecian looking columns, partially covered in what seems to be algae. With a microphone in one hand, he holds out his thumb, index and middle fingers towards us. The English text asks, “what is the secret behind it?” The Arabic reads: “the consultant Salim Hadeed.”

In Gestures V, an obsession with social media celebrities, TV and Twitter clerics, foreign brands, and lifestyles is perfectly distilled in its contradictory relation with conservative identity politics. Seated women and men look up towards the ceiling. The women are in traditional clothing—hijabs and abayas—while the men seem to have more options: some are in suits, others in dishdashas. Despite the sartorial differences, they appear to be uniformly hypnotized.

GCC’s work seeks to bring the invisible and under-recognized popular culture of the region into conversation with contemporary art practices and discourse. The group often finds inspiration in found footage from YouTube made for branding purposes, content particularly fixed toward Gulf nation-making that in recent years has been premised increasingly on what could be called the tyranny of cheerfulness. The intentional opaqueness and playful ambivalence of the collective’s name are qualities that extend throughout their work. For example, one of their previous exhibitions, Achievements in Swiss Summit, 2013, focused on rituals and cultural trends that are immediately identifiable to an audience from the Arab Gulf, such as ribbon cutting ceremonies and trophy productions. GCC is quick to point out, however, that the fanfare of self-congratulatory ceremonies are neither imported nor local. They combine stock imagery made for global commercial campaigns; recreate official summits and ceremonies (with some members in drag) in Morschach, Switzerland; and make actual trophies for the exhibition with the typical language (in Arabic) found on these commonly seen and distributed awards. What remains largely unseen—and what GCC effectively presents—is a critical reflection of the rituals, trends, and luxury brands that are subject to hyper-consumption in the region.

It is often rather hard to make out the difference between the sardonic undertones of GCC’s own work and the frequently hyperbolic found material that serves as their point of departure. It is exactly that moment of misrecognition in which I find GCC’s work at its strongest: as they call the Gulf region’s ideological regimes into question, without ever posing a question or even attempting to unpack the work for any audience, native or otherwise. As I walk away from the show I find myself wondering whether this is the Middle East that I know and inhabit, or some dystopian version of it? I cannot tell.

GCC’s Positive Pathways (+) is currently on display at Mitchell-Innes and Nash, 534 West 26th Street, New York, through November 23, 2016

HEND F. ALAWADHI Artslant 17 November 2016


7 Sep 2016

GCC :: Solid Gold


6 Oct 2015

GCC :: Kaleidoscope Highlight

Myriam Ben Salah Kaleidoscope No. 25 Fall 2015 


1 Sep 2015

GCC :: 1000 WORDS by GCC with an Introduction by Kevin McGarry

THE COLORS are Apple white, Twitter blue, and sand. In a vista of endless dunes, a bipedal pictogram —the type that once served as a modernist icon of universal humanity and now traipses through PowerPoint presentations the world over—is multiplied into a phalanx; an app logo combining a waveform design with the Arabic script for “conference” emerges from a dazzling shrapnel of similar designs; a jigsaw-puzzle piece falls from the sky and locks into its rightful place with a luminous explosion; a veritable mandala of consultant jargon (INDIVIDUALITY MATRIX ALGORITHMS, IDENTITY ENGINEERING) swims before the viewer’s eyes.

Scored by an anodyne blend of galactic sound effects and the kind of acoustic guitar indigenous to business-hotel spas, this video—Vision Driven, 2015—feels as though its intended viewer were only about as human as the personhood legally afforded to American corporations. But so do a lot of things these days, all around the world, and the brand of poetics practiced by GCC, the group responsible for Vision Driven, is above all aspirational and transnational.

In fact, there are at least two groups from the Arab world that go by the initials GCC—the artists’ collective just mentioned, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of six states clustered around the Arabian Gulf (aka the Persian Gulf). In the case of the artists’ group, the letters don’t stand for anything. Needless to say, the homonym is a nightmare for search engines, but the artists’ choice of a name is more than just a mischievous gesture—it’s part of a strange and sprawling project that amounts to one of the most persuasive recent critical interventions into the circuitry of contemporary art. Vision Driven—a recursive meditation on Arab states’ obsessive efforts to construct legible international profiles—is typical of this enterprise and will serve as the crux of GCC’s show “A Wonderful World Under Construction.” Slated to take place in Doha, Qatar, at a venue yet to be confirmed, the exhibition will be an expanded version of an installation presented earlier this year at Sultan Gallery in Kuwait City, where seven of the group’s eight members—Nanu Al-Hamad, Khalid al Gharaballi, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Alqatami, and Barrak Alzaid—grew up. (The eighth, Amal Khalaf, is from the island micronation of Bahrain.)

GCC’s members love to tell the story of where and how the group formed: spontaneously, in the VIP lounge of the 2013 Art Dubai fair, as though they’d been preparing their entire lives to form a satiric bureaucratic council-slash-artists’ collective. The origin story makes sense. In initiatives like Art Dubai— an art fair established to help brand a state—the invisible hand of the market dons the velvet glove of soft power. This is the convergence that GCC exploits and exposes. The following dispatch, chronicling GCC’s preparations for Doha, was composed by committee.

GROWING UP in the 1980s and ’90s in Bahrain and Kuwait, each one of us experienced the aural and visual manifestation of regional unity. By means of a concerted transnational effort, our governments expected us to consume what it meant to be “citizens” of the GCC (the Gulf Cooperation Council). Supremely unsubtle regionalist pop songs—usually sung by amateur children’s choirs and set to catchy, benign music—included such lyrics as “There is but one Gulf / There is but one destiny.” There were also panregional shared curricula, TV shows, and sanctioned public artworks, all geared to conveying the message that we come from countries that are individual in name only, that we are in fact unified and monolithic. More covertly and importantly: The governments of the GCC attempted to convey to their citizens, as well as to the world, that they were a match for the zealousness of postrevolution Iran. This embryonic stage of the actual GCC’s experiments in regional soft-power diplomacy came at a formative moment for most of us. So today, as a collective, we are asking: How does soft power manifest? What is the visual language of this earlier moment? And what is its legacy?

Our most recent project, “A Wonderful World Under Construction,” debuted in March at the Sultan Gallery in Kuwait, and a new version of the work will travel to Qatar in the last quarter of this year. In this show we exorcise the GCC governments’ guidance system for their subjects. We create the fictional scenario of a press launch for an app, developed by the government, that offers personal branding as an essential public service available to the entire population of an unnamed Gulf country. What you see in the gallery happens either before or after the press conference, with the detritus of the launch and marketing objects like branded pens, flash drives, water bottles, and calendars folded into the same space. A conference table and backdrop are branded with faux-heraldic symbols: a falcon, a camel, and a pomfret (a popular fish in the Gulf), all flattened into monochromatic 2-D images in keeping with the funky visual language of regional advertisements. Interspersed among the heritage animals is the Arabic word for “conference” hovering above an abstract undulating logo, which vaguely represents either desert dunes or ocean waves. Everything is a shade of aqua or white, mimicking corporate representations of lightness and approachability.

Hovering next to the press-conference area is a life-size billboard emblazoned with infographic figures telling a story in praise of individualism and competition—the character traits that are most favored by late neoliberalism—and boldly selling this idea to a society famous for its clannishness. On it are Arabic words that roughly translate as “in service of the flock.” The word flock in Arabic doesn’t have the same connotation of guileless devotion that it has in English. It is a reference to a saying of the Prophet: “Each one of you is a shepherd responsible for his flock.” Rather than use the word citizen in the title of the app, we felt that flock more accurately reflected the implicit social contract between the rulers and the ruled in the Gulf. The relationship of the shepherd to his flock is that of a parent to his dependents, and so it is for the ruler and the ruled in this region, regardless of their legal status within the state.

The show is our reflection on the magnitude of recent branding and rebranding campaigns in the Gulf, which dwarf the almost rustic, homespun efforts of the ’80s and ’90s. Today you see multibillion-dollar campaigns led by foreign consultants, which both project a manicured image of the Gulf to the rest of the world and curate a citizenry fit to occupy this new environment. Since these countries are built by migrant labor on the ruins of their pre-oil existence, people became consumed with nostalgia almost as soon as the first bulldozer struck its mud-brick victim. Authorities championed selective memory and enthusiastically fed the populations an edited version of the past. The maintenance and encouragement of policies of historical erasure have been crucial to the way the Gulf sells itself, and therefore to the way it sees itself. Since the loss of their pre-oil world, Gulf governments have perpetuated what the writer Jonathan Meades calls “sightbites” of the past. Traditional garb has taken on businessy, corporate connotations; “heritage villages” have sprung up across the region, acting as avatars of the demolished cities. Ancient activities such as falconry have taken on second lives on Instagram, where young men have enthusiastically curated their identities by adopting the more prestigious sightbites of Bedouin life for their virtual personae. In the jargon of the region, this phenomenon goes by a term that roughly translates as “heritage revival.”

This sort of sentimental conjuring isn’t particularly new or unique to the region, of course; you can see it all over the world, from the völkisch movement in Nazi Germany to Vladimir Putin’s folksy authoritarianism to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s demi-Ottoman pretensions. What unites all these efforts to aggressively promote a wholly sentimentalized experience of nationhood is that, in all cases, enforced uniformity is veiled by notions of inclusivity and heritage. In 2011, amid the last days of the antigovernment protests in Bahrain, the authorities violently demolished the Pearl Roundabout—a kitschy postmodern monument to Bahrain’s pearl-diving history, built in 1982 to commemorate the third GCC Summit—specifically because it had ceased to act as a government-sanctioned symbol of Bahrain’s vanishing heritage and had taken on a new life as a symbol of resistance.

In the Gulf today, governments celebrate a plethora of sponsored mobile apps that provide users control over their finances, health, transportation, and so on. The apps reinforce an illusion of autonomy while allowing governments to maintain control. However, their nonfunctionality exposes the hollowness of the gleaming optimism these apps evince and of the hyperconvenient future they advertise. As the show moves to Qatar, we will take the work out of the neutrality of the gallery space and put it into its “natural habitat,” a public or semipublic space where there’s an engagement with the surroundings and with the public. Here we will take the opportunity to explore other facets of the work, magnifying the Gulf states governments’ need to increasingly adopt corporate advertising methods—laced with heritage symbols— in order to deliver a melodious distraction from the regime’s strategy.

Vision Driven is an example of these methods, espousing the benefits of this app using stick figures, pie charts, and dense infographics. The sequence of these elements is nonsensical yet highly structured. It opens with a meditative sun rising over an oryx in the desert, then quickly shifts to a crowd of figures intended to create a relationship between the individuated user and the interface of the app. A set of 3-D triangles pops up—an infographic describing the app as a “Trailblazer in Technology, Service, and Innovation.” The accompanying text relays the “Premium Services,” “Immediate Lifestyle Assessment Reports,” and “Personalized Image Management Tools” that allow you to “Refine Your Individuality,” “Create a Harmonious Connection with Your Identity,” and “Potentialize Yourself in Real-Time.” All the while, the sound track is a stock and highly suicidal jingle that points to the ominous quality of all this verbal and visual rhetoric.

The implications of branding, advertising, and public relations, of consumption and consumer culture, having taken over society don’t trouble most people in the region. The notion that these practices are lulling people into establishing an unfaltering allegiance to products and political realities is lost. This echoes the totalizing mythos of the ’80s, which was sustained through the suppression of dissent and a privatized urban infrastructure designed to maintain a facade of stability and success. Today, the neoliberal dream of privatization and the false individualism of the curated self have been magnified by the prevalence of social media and particularly by Instagram—which has become a platform for small businesses, turning legions of individuals into low-level, self-branding entrepreneurs. And here we imagine the government stepping in to facilitate this activity in the form of this app, posing as an aid to the citizen while covertly embedding its mechanisms of control.

GCC introduced by Kevin McGarry Artforum September 2015


1 Apr 2015

GCC :: On Disintegration

Andrew Durbin Mousse 45 April - May 2015


25 Apr 2014

GCC :: Corporate Aesthetics

GCC at MoMA PS1

In the 21st century, business and diplomacy look like the best of friends. Thanks to intergovernmental efforts to deregulate and homogenize financial markets, money can now travel largely unobstructed by national borders. Accordingly, contemporary globalized capitalism has developed a visual style all its own: distinctive enough to immediately signify taste and success, but bland and unobtrusive enough to be inoffensive in almost every context. It doesn't matter whether one is attending a conference in Dubai, sitting in a London office or looking through an in-flight magazine—the same homogenous aesthetic of shining wood furniture, plush carpets and well-groomed management consultants seems to prevail.

This look permeates the galleries of Queens, N.Y.'s MoMA PS1, now hosting "GCC: Achievements in Retrospective," the first North American exhibition of the GCC, an artist collective that takes its name and inspiration from the Gulf Cooperation Council. Like many other intergovernmental organizations, the Gulf Cooperation Council has vaguely stated goals that include promoting economic growth for its members, in this case Arab states in the Gulf region. And of course, international business diplomacy is not only about aesthetics: the sometimes-grandiose decisions made in this forum have real repercussions for everyone involved, perhaps most violently manifest in the brutal labor conditions of migrant workers. When GCC the artist collective—its nine members hailing from or maintaining connections to various Persian Gulf countries—appropriate the gestures and self-mythologizing imagery involved in diplomatic proceedings, they seek to uncover them as a kind of ridiculous theatre, rituals with no real meaning.

At MoMA PS1, an enthusiastic male voice, audible throughout the two galleries, assures visitors that the group's credentials are bona fide: "This official high-level strategic dialogue shows the bloc's commitment to an artistic union under an auspicious occasion that marks the diplomatic protocols observed." Part of a video titled CO- OP (2014), the script is set to a series of images playing on a flat- screen television. Clouds move past pristine mountaintops, fireworks explode over anonymous skylines and animated buildings shoot up like mushrooms from the sidewalks of a bustling CGI cityscape, beckoning tourists and investors to a place that has wealth and faith in the future.

The centerpiece of one gallery is a display of eight statuettes commemorating GCC's previous achievements: exhibitions in, for example, Berlin, Kassel, Kuwait, Beijing, London and now New York. The inscriptions feature the same self-congratulatory jargon as the video, saying things in Arabic or English such as, "We present ourselves with enormous gratitude and the deepest thanks for our outstanding contribution in support of this exhibition and our continued involvement in its success, and the honouring of ourselves springs from our loyal efforts and special dedication." Similarly, the walls are hung with photographs of meetings and ceremonies in pompous settings: a ribbon is cut, handshakes seal a deal, brows are furrowed over an important idea. The images appear to depict solemn events of high importance, though the exact meaning of the formalized interactions is left vague, as context-free as stock photography.

Despite their overall sleek aesthetic, many of the GCC's works contain hints of the facade's flimsiness. In actual stock photography, businessmen would not be wearing pajamas as a stand-in for traditional Arab dress. Nor would there be any evidence of a dingy back office, something that is, however, included in the show as an installation half-hidden behind a frosted glass screen. With its dull wall-to-wall carpeting and outdated electronics, the office is in stark contrast to the rest of the exhibition, revealing, perhaps, the gray tedium in which the rest of the show's opulent dreamscapes were produced.

According to the artists—Nanu Al-Hamad, Khalid Al Gharaballi, Sophia Al Maria, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid and Amal Khalaf—this model of an office is also a representation of the relaxed attitude to work and the inefficient bureaucracies that prevail around the Gulf. The piece says with greater clarity what the others imply: there is nothing real that corresponds to these dreams. And that is why, for all the regional specificity of these portrayals, their message is universal. The language of financial success is scrubbed clean of the labor that created it, money becoming a placeholder with no necessary connection to value or work. Writing in one voice, the GCC responded to A.i.A.'s questions by e-mail.

KIRA JOSEFSSON How was your collective founded?

GCC A few of us were approached [in 2013] to work on a state- sponsored art project that was infused with a heavy dosage of bureaucratic wrangling. Our proposal—which referenced the bureaucracy surrounding the commission—was rejected, which gave us the impetus to create a formal unit of our own. We've collaborated in a variety of configurations over the past decade, and felt that as a collective we could draw on our ties in a way that could meld our various practices. In forming a "bloc" we can also address these overlapping topics that tie us together in a way that emphasized an anonymous shared experience of an environment rather than zooming in on the perspective of any one individual artist.

JOSEFSSON In corporations, individual performance is subsumed into the collective profit motive. This is manifest for example in business attire, the suit acting as a sartorial marker of anonymity. Does a similar dynamic also exist in GCC as a creative collective?

GCC Gulf businessmen have always been stereotypically portrayed as wearing traditional wear as a cheap Hollywood joke, but recently this trope is actually being used promotionally by the establishment in the region as a way to distinguish the now-powerful Gulf businessman as being part of a shiny new national brand. "National wear" has become an icon of wealth on one hand, as well as a link to "pure" Arab roots on the other; a win-win situation, acutely differentiating between the privileged locals, usually in managerial or administrative positions, and the expats, usually on the lower rungs of the ladder. We are interested in labor being seen as a suggestive act, with the emphasis being placed on the ritual of work, rather than the result. And the vagueness of working anonymously, or without having clearly prescribed roles, allows us to explore these themes further.

JOSEFSSON As a collective, living all over the world, what is your creative process like? How did you end up with the specific works you are currently showing at MoMA PS1?

GCC We communicate constantly on a number of online platforms to share ideas, but whatever concepts or material we bring up are concretized during our summits and the conversations that follow. We've had three summits so far, our first in Morschach [Switzerland], a second in Kuwait to plan the show at PS1 and most recently a New York summit to discuss future proposals.

So this constant communication results in a really organic conversation, and we enjoy bringing in other "delegates" to the conversation. Christopher Lew, who curated our show at PS1, was really instrumental in helping us to home in on what intervention we were making in the platform of the "retrospective." The works shown at PS1 were exhibited originally at four separate exhibitions.

Christopher identified a similar theme of achievement running through the exhibits and had the idea of combining selected works to be shown as a "retrospective," albeit a premature one, since GCC is only a year old. CO-OP, the new "promo" video work we created, serves as an anchor for that intervention. Within one space we collapse past, present and future achievements into a single experience.

JOSEFSSON Your work is humorous in its unmasking of the emptiness of corporate and state rituals. But what else do you hope to communicate?

GCC We view our work as incessantly sincere, a kind of positive realism. The emptiness of these gestures is not only a business trope, but also a reflection of higher power structures. There is something really crucial about the extent to which government bodies secure and deploy power through ritual, ceremony and the object. Many of the ambitious plans currently in development in the Gulf can be viewed as nationalistic campaigns using the guise of "luxury development" to push forward a "pure" unified national brand. These rituals and ceremonies thus become the visual performance of this national brand; they instate a kind of allegiance.

JOSEFSSON Do you see your work as a simulacrum of business? How can simulacra and irony change the viewer's interpretation of these pieces?

GCC Our work is more akin to a simulacrum of diplomacy— diplomacy as an international language, presented in our regional vernacular. There is an undeniably close relationship between contemporary corporate and diplomatic discourse; however, the latter is richer in pomp and protocol. Aesthetically, our work deals with the absence of labor, the import of foreign objects that have gained local meaning through filters of engagement. More than simply using corporate aesthetics as a static reflection of the "mundane," our use emphasizes the active discrepancy between the high-rise super- developments in the region and the absence and dysfunction of local labor.

Irony and simulacra expose the viewer to significant societal transactions that are taken for granted or possess covert meaning. Re- contextualized, what is seen as business as usual is revealed as carefully orchestrated performances of work.

Kira Josefsson Art in America 25 April 2014


1 Apr 2014

GCC :: The Aesthetics of Nation Building

Curator Christopher Y. Lew joins artist collective GCC to discuss the inspiration and impetus behind their practice: image-sharing, global Whatsapp conversations and contemporary culture of the Arab Gulf region.

The artist collective GCC has been making work that is both inspired by and addresses the contemporary culture of the Arab Gulf region. Comprised of eight delegates—Nanu Al-Hamad, Khalid Al Gharaballi, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, Amal Khalaf—the GCC is named, in part, after the intergovernmental body that helps bind the region. For their inaugural series of exhibitions, the collective focused on the notion of achievement, focusing on the rituals that mark accomplishment as well as the physical objects that embody them. They have created a series of Congratulants based on trophies exchanged in the Gulf as well as videos examining ribbon-cutting ceremonies and installations that reference the spectacular cities that have been recently constructed in the region. The GCC’s visual language is not one of irony or hyperbole, but rather a way of framing culture that reveals the ambiguity and nuance of how people live today. By utilizing new mediums like HD and 4K video, in addition to appropriating traditional forms like news radio and miniature model building, the GCC span a range of artistic practices. They are rooted in the legacy of identity politics while engaging with new ways of relating images and objects. With members trained in architecture, design, music, and of course art, the collective embraces an interdisciplinary way of working that produces works that are both coherent and concise in their concept and execution. They make use of visuals that are largely known to the late-capitalist consumer—advertising and brand management that is employed by global business and nations alike.

Christopher Y. Lew: How did the GCC come about?

GCC: Our members have worked together on publications, exhibitions and biennial projects, so our collaboration stretches back for some time. In early 2013, a group of us were asked to submit a proposal to the first Kuwait Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. We understood that the pavilion would need to negotiate national interests, so that subject was already at the forefront of our conversation. The project didn’t pan out, but we realized that we see eye-to-eye on most things, so the discussion about all of us working collectively started. We formalized it a short while later in the Art Dubai VIP lounge. The Venice proposal, which we titled A Space for National Achievement, became the basis of our first solo show at the Sultan Gallery in Kuwait.

CYL: Can you talk a bit about the process? How do you all worked together and develop the works and the exhibitions?

GCC: We have this vast collective image and idea bank that we’ve been building for a while without the right platform, and GCC, with our combined skills, makes it possible to utilize this. There’s a lot of conversation, constantly, 24 hours on WhatsApp and in person through global summits. So far we have met in Switzerland, Kuwait, and New York. On WhatsApp, half of the dialogue is about real work and the other half is just people having conversations about god knows what. These random conversations have generated things as well though, so, in a way, they’re both work-related, but the summits are where we really develop our projects.

CYL: The ideas come from the conversation?
GCC: There’s a lot of image sharing, YouTube videos, screenshots, and very important Instagram research.

CYL: I realized we haven’t discussed what the GCC refers to.

GCC: The letters are not what convey the message; it’s not an acronym for us. We look at the word GCC as an image, like a .jpeg file, not as a text. What is also nice about the name is that it’s an acronym for so many things. It keeps it extremely anonymous. It could mean Glendale Community College or Grupos Cementos de Chihuahua. It gives us a bit of a shield so that we are not just referencing political bodies. Though it has been interpreted that way.

For example, when we did A Space for National Achievement at The Sultan Gallery in Kuwait, the audience was much smaller than we expected. We found out from a major collector that many of her collector friends avoided the show because they thought it was an actual GCC-sponsored event. We were kind of happy with that. It was flattering. We conveyed the information we wanted to convey. Maybe it was too accurate.

 

CYL: You’ve said before that you are examining the contemporary culture from the Gulf region. Can you elaborate?

GCC: Most of these countries invest a lot of money and resources into branding: there’s the image they project internationally and then there’s the one that is understood within the country. They have an interest in representing the Gulf in a certain way. And it becomes a very homogenous image somehow. But there are environments, aesthetics, and rituals happening around us that are so alluring and need to be addressed.

From the beginning we were always interested in invisible aspects of the culture. Invisible based on how easy it was to find on the internet, that’s how we characterize it as invisible. These rituals and processes are somehow everywhere, yet under the radar, taken for granted, not examined, not addressed in any kind of way that is not literal. They are not important enough for Instagram, or at least not in a central way.

For example, why is the ribbon cutting ceremony, a relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire best convertible car seat, so important right now, right here? Or the culture of the red carpet ceremonies, coming from America, from awards ceremonies like the Oscars. That actually comes from Rome or Ancient Greece, but celebrated through pop culture. These objects and rituals start to play a role in our work, and when you look at them from a bureaucratic or governmental level, you start to connect what’s going on in the Gulf with what it means to live in a situation that’s super neo- liberal/feudal.

In the present state of Gulf countries, the State itself becomes a brand, a corporation, so it’s also about this merger between late-capitalism and this very old tribal state. It’s about how these things merge and create new languages. If you look at the subject matter we’re playing with here—if you put it in a vacuum, without context—they become something the whole globalized world can relate to, but what we’re interested in is this process where it passes through a sort of filter and becomes something of a vernacular.

CYL: Which the GCC conference table does in a physical way.

GCC: It’s glaring in a way because that table is a frankenstein. Because of where the motifs come from; ideas of officialdom and luxury and all these things and how they transform the look of that table. It’s a key reason why we are concerned with the ephemeral as it relates to experience and architecture. So many of these symbols of power, of authority, are mediated by architecture. This hexagon gets remade for each GCC summit which is held in a different country and it’s always so opulent. The delegations sit behind it. The hierarchy is set before people even walk in the door. That’s something that’s been interesting to us, how environments shape collective and individual experiences. Just the way that the decorative aspect of officialdom is managed through some hazy memory of something, of an Empire table someone saw in France, a boardroom meeting chair, the proportions of a banqueting hall, all of that merging and creating something new.

CYL: Moving the conversation in a different direction, I have been thinking about the Arab Image Foundation, a collective started by Walid Raad, Akaram Zaatari, and other artists. In the late ’90s, the collective was using photography to deal with the history of Lebanon and the loss of memory through the civil war. Here you are as a different collective, very much of the 21st century, dealing with a project that’s not dissimilar, focused on specific regions and their respective contemporary concerns.

GCC: The urges are similar. Lebanon, which suffered through an event, a singular event which was the impetus for that project. For us it’s a continuation, a historical timeline, an ongoing thing, and we are interested in these objects and aesthetics because of that. For Lebanon, a lot of the ideas are about the past, memory, and things like that, while we’re trying to deal with the future and the present. It’s a different way of looking. But you could also think about the past while viewing our work. Or you could relate it to politics, the extended reasons why these things exist. We’re not directly going to talk about the past. We want to talk about now and why now exists.

One thing that is fascinating for us about the region is that there are parts that are encased in dust, where aesthetics have been frozen in time. Materials have been frozen in time. They have miles of dust on top of them and are unshakeable. Then you have rapid acceleration, the corporate “mall-ification” of this region, which is spiraling out of control. The “Dubai-ification”. Every time you go back there are new words, new practices. Your grandma is on Instagram. You can’t keep up. As someone who is away from the region and comes back, you feel left behind; people are already way ahead of you. There are new rituals. But then there are parts of the region that just won’t change, like the Edith Piaf song played at the Ministry of Defense. During the Kuwait show, a friend came to the exhibition. There was this music from a YouTube video we found, which included a ribbon-cutting segment, and which we used for a piece in the show. Our friend works for the Ministry of Defense and he said “This is my life, every day.” That particular music is played in the lobby of the Ministry of Defense, just incidentally. This type of example goes back to earlier attempts at modernization, especially in places like Kuwait. Just this summer the Kuwaiti government started using e-mail, for internal purposes. Everything will probably get printed out anyway, and stamped. And that’s part of what’s interesting too, these governments and bureaucracies are capable of such scale and yet are still mired in the Jurassic trappings of bureaucracy.

There’s obviously the dichotomy of the dusty and the highly developed, and how those can exist together. But there’s also places and aspects of the culture within Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar which are not necessarily part of this storyline. There’s the land reclamation in Bahrain in particular. There is the way in which the specific timeline of when oil was introduced in each country that defined and shaped taste, sensibility, architecture. And how later on...we don’t want to call it reverse colonialism, but how the Arab Gulf has extended itself into places like London or Paris, and how that affects its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.

CYL: I think that you’re poised between projects like the Arab Image Foundation, which revolves around the archive, and a way of making that is about future and present ways of disseminating images and objects.

GCC: Speed and velocity are important. We were talking about it as a group, trying to think that maybe it was about the element of time. In the CO-OP video, it is as if the past and the future collapsed into the present. We are creating encounters for the viewer. Creating these worlds that deal with elements of history and the present, and projections into the future.

If we accelerate this culture, what is the end result? If there’s an element of linear speed in this conversation then there needs to be a terminus for this journey. There is a beginning and an end, so what is that end? I think we’re hurtling towards the end. We’re trying to reach outer space or orgasm.

Another thing that is interesting about the rapidity of our trajectory is that it is mirroring what is going on right now in Dubai. This “we want to be number one, right now” attitude, in which “we want the future right now, there’s no time to waste.” It’s really

strange that it turned out this way. So we’re kind of representing this acceleration that’s really happening in the Gulf, architecturally and culturally. At the beginning, we were trying to reflect reality, but now reality is reflecting onto us.

CYL: Language also is important to what you are doing. It doesn’t just create context for the work but it becomes another material. Can we talk about how language enters the work, and how the GCC is presented through language as well as imagery.

GCC: We address language in the same way as the rest of our subject matter. For us, it is a comprehensive subject or source, and we approach it in a very similar way. We appropriate and re-contextualize this language. Again, like how these words exist, if they’re taken out of the GCC context, they can be relatable to everyone else. Especially the use of English, a language that has been imported, but here it has passed through a filter and has become something else, something local.

CYL: The titles of your work relates to that.

GCC: Most of the writing we’ve done is in this way, a kind of culling, and a kind of collage. We are also moving towards more abstract language, the language of PR, the language of selling real estate, language of selling leisure and lifestyle options, the language of the performance of labor. For example, the photographs of the Swiss summit are a universal language of government officials grandstanding and pretending to work. This is the result of the government acting like a corporation, using the same marketing tools. And the governments of the Gulf, in their own way, take as their guideline the rituals of foreign government bodies. That then trickles down and becomes our guideline.

When we think about the use of language in the work, it’s very similar to how a corporate entity speaks to its audience, this sort of business-friendly, PR jargon, but wrapped in a style that is super personal and private. It’s a performance in a sense. A lot of our work deals with reality as an illusion, this dream of a Gulf coastline, unrealized buildings, the performance of labor during government summits as well as the idea of a single unified Arab Gulf, which in reality, Qatar is now on the fringes of this cooperative because of one too many diplomatic stunts.

When the Peninsula Shield, which is the GCC military wing, suddenly came into Bahrain to storm the protest in 2011, we were talking about it, and thinking, “Since when is there an army, since when has the GCC as a body affected our life and our world?” That was a moment when we were discussing what that union is, how it makes sense, and what it would mean to have a union. Everyone knows that it’s a show union, not a real union. All this time everyone thought it was a defunct thing, not real. Then it became so real. It became real when the military arm manifested itself in Bahrain.

Though it is real in other ways, to think about it outside the context of where we live, there are millions of people who actually believe in this union. And taken at face value, their efforts, through the use of soft power, have wrought some sort of result. By producing these regionalist pop songs and media productions and things like that, people have grown up on it. It’s a reality for a lot of people.

CYL: What lies in the future?

GCC: This is a question we’ve been asking recently. This year we don’t have a second to breathe. Ideally we would like some reflection. We need another summit like the Swiss summit—where we were removed from an urban environment—and are stuck and simmering in a jungle or on a mountain.

CYL: So you mean vacation? [laughs]

GCC: Yes. What was really successful in Switzerland was that there was a lot of cured meat and alcohol. We have so many other proposals we want to do. We want to do a film...It’s about deciding what we want to do, maybe outside the context of a gallery or a museum show.

Christopher Y. Lew is Associate Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is the former Assistant Curator at MoMA PS1 where he organized GCC: Achievements in Retrospective.

Christopher Y. Lew DisMagazine 


1 Mar 2014

GCC :: I’ll Be Your Mirror


15 Oct 2013

GCC :: GCC Transmission

GCC takes the idea of the art collective to a global level; more than just artists working together, the nine female and male members – Fatima Al Qadiri, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Amal Khalaf, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, Khalid al Gharaballi, Monira Al Qadiri, Nanu Al-Hamad and Sophia Al-Maria – are exploring the very meaning of the 'collective' and its possibilities by mimicking pan-regional political models (its name is based on the Arab government body, the Gulf Cooperation Council). Here, Al Qadiri introduces GCC with an exclusive transmission on the theme of the six GCC countries.

Upon entering Achievements in Swiss Summit, London's first GCC exhibition at Project Native Informant, it becomes immediately apparent that the luxurious setting is apt - the Rolls Royce hovering by the entrance on the opening night is not a mode of transportation for an ostentatious Frieze-goer but a prop that plays an integral part of the show's concept. Achievements in Swiss Summit acts as a formal celebration of the artistic union of the GCC collective, an auspicious event that reinforces its first meeting in Morschach, Switzerland and announces through speakers in controlled, mellow tones its intentions as a High Level Strategic Dialogue.

Frieze visitors were invited to take a ride around the block in the Rolls Royce, inside which a sound installation was played on a continuous loop. It is the official charter of the Gulf Cooperation Council, altered to fit the aims of its new-art reimagining. The names of each of the nine collaborators replace the states of the original GCC (the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait), while the word 'Islam' is replaced with 'Art' and 'League of Arab States' with 'Federation of Gulf Artists'. Promoting unity amongst artists in different fields, the confirmation of their bond echoes that of the original GCC charter, with the aim of achieving 'sublime objectives.'

GCC has always revered its strong sibling relations and makes sure to celebrate our limitless achievements collectively. Our main aim is to help others help us help them

In the gallery itself, the audience is presented with documentation of the first summit of GCC as a collective, glimpses of ritual and gestures of certainty. Elements of the close-knit society's activities are revealed, the rest remaining scintillatingly secret, concealed behind the rhetoric of business conferences and political speeches; as more is ostensibly disclosed, the more opaque its meaning becomes. Here, a representative of GCC explains more about the intentions and purposes of the Gulf's newest collective.

Dazed Digital: How and when did the GCC collective start?

GCC: GCC was born in the VIP lounge of Art Dubai, March 2013.

DD: What ideas are you exploring in the exhibition, Achievements in Swiss Summit?

GCC: The therapeutic processes and healing properties of alpine political problem solving.

DD: Has Achievements in Swiss Summit been shown elsewhere or was it been made specifically for Frieze?

GCC: Achievements in Swiss Summit is part documentation of our inaugural annual summit in Morschach, Switzerland, and part self-congratulant. The debut of the show coincides with Frieze. The timing is God's will.

DD: The exhibition relates to ideas of 'friendship' and 'cooperation' - inherent to a collective. Did you get together with the aim of conceptually exploring collectivism, or were you just working together anyway?

GCC: GCC has always revered its strong sibling relations and makes sure to celebrate our limitless achievements collectively. Our main aim is to help others help us help them.

DD: Are all the group members visual artists?
GCC: We pride ourselves as jacks of all trades but feel a humanistic obligation towards our less fortunate neighbors to outsource our labour.

DD: What kind of experience does the GCC hope for its guests to have inside the Rolls Royce?

GCC: We wanted guests to have an immersive experience of the GCC Charter while inside the cocoon of an official motorcade vehicle. It seemed like an ideal incubator for our spokesperson's soothing voice.

Amy Knight Dazed Digital October 2013