Interview and review by Ella Plevin
GCC are a meeting of nine minds from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Named for the English abbreviation for the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Khaleeji group possesses a wide spectrum of talent (from writing to music, visual arts and design) with which to excavate the absurdities and banalities of their experience of the Gulf and wider Arab world.
Friday’s throng at Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Gallery surrounded a mix of video work, ready-mades and a trio of digitally printed aluminium discs. The show is presided over by Berlin Congratulant, a continuation of self-applauding trophies (previously made for group shows in Kuwait and Kassel) made by and awarded to the creative cooperative and inscribed with thanks in Arabic: a thumb to the emptiness of merit within bureaucratic cultures in which achievement is not only awarded but created by the act of award.
Twinkling within the Zirconia diamonds and cut glass is the reflection of the show’s titular piece, Ceremonial Achievements, in which the collective forms a circle for a ribbon-cutting ceremony performed inside Al-Hashimi II, the largest handmade boat in the world (moored in Kuwait and often used for official events and ceremonial balls). Ribbon cutting was chosen for its bureaucratic pomp and tradition as a self-aggrandising inaugural ritual. Elsewhere, found footage and fictional instructional protocol further accentuate the vacuous posturing of civil formalities. But in Ceremonial Achievements, the conclusive snip is not shown. Each member stands facing inwards, impotently bound in ritual to the other eight by red fabric and a looping camera pan.
In their own words GCC’s intent here is to showcase the mechanism of power consolidation that exists at the thresholds of public and private space. It’s part of a developing practice that uses the framework of collaboration and outsourced production to echo systemic political models and practises. Inaugural Summit, Morschach, 2013, documents the first annual summit to be held by GCC in Switzerland. Last month, still images of the event were shown at Project Native Informant gallery, in a show coat-tailing Frieze Art Fair. A Rolls Royce was also employed to circle the gallery’s mews behind Claridges while broadcasting an audio charter to its passengers. These fatuous power gestures are also binding rituals for the group as a social assemblage, who have unsurprisingly gathered such swift momentum since their formation in the VIP lounge at Art Dubai in March 2013. Poking a stick at the self-congratulatory practises of Gulf Society is one thing, conflating this criticism with the art world is quite another. Particularly when the same hierarchical power structures and nepotistic impulses being criticised feature in the prizes, appointments and curatorial decisions that determine whose star will rise or fall. It’s not what you know, after all.
Naturally, the exhibition was also inaugurated Berlin-style with a party at Chesters (thrown by notorious mainstays Janus with master of ceremonies, Fatima Al Qadiri on the decks.
Raise your empty glasses Berlin, to GCC.
GCC is Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Amal Khalaf, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, Fatima Al Qadiri, Khalid al Gharaballi, Monira Al Qadiri, Nanu Al-Hamad and Sophia Al-Maria.
Here, Sleek caught up with GCC to talk about the current show at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeider, Berlin, and the process behind their work.
Sleek: How earnest is your work?
GCC: We take our work seriously, irony is just one element in our work.
What are you hoping to unmask in your criticism of ceremonial pomp and bureaucratic ritual?
We are sharing a very keen observation of protocols and rituals.
Someone once mentioned that our work reflected a ‘subversive positive realism’ – we aren’t criticising anything, but merely echoing the reality around us in works of art – it’s the mindset that envisions the Gulf as being a perfect unit of six tension-free states, that it is a place of dreams and future visions, fit for world-class festivals and expos, the ‘hub’ for global business dealings. We emulate this disposition when conceiving new works.
Can you talk about the conflation of the self-congratulatory practises of Gulf society with the art world?
The VIP lounge at an art fair is the physical place where these worlds collapse – where we drink champagne and discuss international affairs. Without these crucial elements there would be no GCC.
What is more important to you as a productive unit, common ideals or common experience? Can you share one without the other?
What we share is a common grasp of the “now” in the Gulf. The reality of the Gulf that’s being amplified and exposed by digital culture. We share the Gulf as an overarching backdrop against our own individual work.
Our personal experiences within this environment overlap to create layers and depth in conceptualising work and in executing it, and this collective body somehow emulates the shared experience of civilian bodies within the GCC countries.
How does it feel to show in a European centre of diplomacy like Berlin? What other ties or interests do you have with the German capital?
A mutual affection for bureaucracy. We would like to express our happiness for the German capital’s purposeful vision and keen desire to activate the cooperation process. We appreciate their mutual affection for bureaucracy.
By it’s nature, your work is born out of collective discussion and this is celebrated in Achievements in Swiss Summit. Where did the ideas from the show at KTZ emerge from? Do you orchestrate fresh conventions for each new project or exhibition?
We like to think of our production as a process of excavation. We are drawing on existing source material and do not intentionally seek out something fresh or new. Sometimes we’ll start with a concept, and sometimes we’ll respond strongly to an object. The trophies in the suite of shows this fall are so ubiquitous in the GCC. It’s this deep integration of protocol and cultural practice that we are digging up and re-contextualizing in an art space.
How do you manage this with so many members flung between Europe, the Middle East and the United States?
We are deeply invested in the aesthetic and conceptual rigor of a work. At times there will be unanimous agreement around an idea, and at others there will be discussion and tightly held points of view might get traded for a totally unexpected perspective. We express our deep thanks to the 21st century communication technologies that enable our constant communication.
Finally, can you talk about upcoming projects? What do you hope 2014 will bring for GCC?
Inshallah prosperity. For comments and questions, please refer to www.gccdomain.com
Until February 2014