23 Mar 2014 – 7 Sep 2014

MoMa PS1, New York


Achievements in Retrospective

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective

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

Clocks, metal plates
20 × 156 inches (50.80 × 396.24 cm)
Edition of 3 plus II AP

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective

Digital print on paper, frosted glass, fluorescent light fixtures, venetian blind, TV monitor, carpet, furniture, imitation plant, coffee service, newspaper, office supplies, tissue box, modem
Dimensions variable

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective

Installation view: Achievements in Retrospective

New York Congratulant
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")

Consisting of a “delegation” of nine artists, the GCC makes reference to the English abbreviation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an economic and political consortium of Arabian Gulf nations. Founded in the VIP lounge of Art Dubai in 2013, the GCC makes use of ministerial language and celebratory rituals associated with the Gulf to create videos, photographs, sculptures, and installations that examine the region’s rapid transformation in recent decades.

This exhibition, their first in the US, is presented in the format of a retrospective. The exhibition’s title, Achievements in Retrospective, intentionally plays with the idiosyncratic grammar reflected in bureaucratic Arabic-English translations as well as the kind of international English pervasive at global summits. As a retrospective for a nascent collaborative, the exhibition offers a prospective view, alluding to works that have yet to be made—not unlike the aspirational nature of some projects in the Gulf.

By intentionally focusing on contemporary Gulf culture, the collective seeks, in their own words, to “excavate the undocumented culture” of the region. They make use of the images and objects that circulate in social and political spheres to examine Gulf culture as it unfolds in the present day. The particulars of office environments, markers of achievement, and ceremonial acts become the raw material from which the GCC creates work addressing the very content it employs. Through the guise of an inter-governmental body, the GCC investigates notions of regional and national identity by sharing their achievements with the rest of the world.

GCC delegates are Nanu Al-Hamad (b. 1987, Kuwait City; lives in New York), Khalid Al Gharaballi (b. 1981, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Sophia Al Maria (b. 1983 Tacoma, WA; lives in London), Abdullah Al-Mutairi (b. 1990, Kuwait City; lives New York), Fatima Al Qadiri (b. 1981, Dakar; lives in New York), Monira Al Qadiri (b. 1983, Dakar; lives in Beirut), Aziz Al Qatami (b. 1979, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Barrak Alzaid (b. 1985, Kuwait City; lives in Dubai), Amal Khalaf (b. 1982, Singapore; lives in London).


1 Apr 2015

GCC :: On Disintegration

Andrew Durbin Mousse 45 April - May 2015

25 Apr 2014

GCC :: Corporate Aesthetics


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