Contemporary art is all about being “out of the box”—but the box better be labeled. From prefix-appended historical movements to trending buzzwords or bandied-about jargon, the art world tends to reduce anything new to a vocab Alix Rules and David Levine defined in Triple Canopy magazine as “International Art English” (IAE), suggesting that criticism might move towards “highbrow copywriting.” Indeed, when a UFO like GCC appears center stage, one is tempted to use the “para-,” “proto-,” “post-,” and “hyper-” vocab to make it fit into the usual compartments. Try and squeeze eight people into a box, though—especially when they are precisely exploring the liminal spaces between categories. GCC is indeed a “delegation” of eight members—Khalid Al Gharaballi, Nanu Al-Hamad, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Al Qatami, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Barrak Alzaid and Amal Khalaf—whose wide spectrum of talents expands from writing to music, visual arts, architecture and design. Their name being based on the Gulf Cooperation Council acronym, they make use of diplomacy language, nation branding components or celebratory rituals associated with the Gulf to create objects, videos, photographs, sculptures and installations, usually integrated in immersive environments and oscillating between a glossy, neoliberal perfection and some sort of handmade low resolution.
Despite popular beliefs, while the members were born “post-Internet,” and their working methods are thoroughly digital—24/7 conversations on Whatsapp, Skype meetings, Instagram research—they don’t actually relate to that so-called movement. Their interests and research matters are elsewhere: as Al Qadiri explains, “Technology lets it happen but doesn’t necessarily makes it easier.” They’re not quite into “accelerating” things, either—another label they are assigned quite often—probably because of the inherently dual nature of their main subject, the Gulf. The uncanny region is in constant tension between speed and atrophy, between a race towards the extreme end of capitalism and a stunning bureaucratic do-nothingness. If anything, GCC opposes that temporal bolting, offering some sort of inactive resistance materialized through contemplative, almost motionless work.
Their work deals with global issues disguised in Gulf clothing, as they put it.
GCC’s relevance and timely sharpness springs from their ambiguities. For a long time, artists from the Arab world have been obsessed with struggle-based narratives and a rhetoric of the past, creating works that were almost a response to some “tacit commission” from the West, arbitrarily linking authenticity with traumatic backstories and past/drama storytelling. That would probably explain why it is so difficult to qualify the symptomatic and pivotal shift GCC is initiating in the region today and in the art world in general, even at the risk of being wrongly perceived as the “priviledged khaleedji kids” playing with pop culture and institutional critique 2.0. As seen in their recent solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1, Sharjah Art Foundation and Sultan Gallery, GCC explores the question of representation in and of the Gulf through a subtle study of ritualistic and performative elements ranging from diplomatic protocol to gender construction. Their work deals with “global issues disguised in Gulf clothing,” as they put it. Their singular relationship with both our times and their region makes them truly contemporary in the sense that Giorgio Agamben describes contemporariness as a profound dissonance: an adhesion to one’s time through disjunction and anachronism.
GCC is a collective formed in 2013 and based in the Arabian Gulf. GCC is represented by Project Native Informant, London, and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.
Myriam Ben Salah has been curator of special projects and cultural programming at the Palais de Tokyo since 2009. Current projects include the exhibitions “Dirty Linen” at Deste Foundation, Athens, through 11 October.
Image: GCC, Royal Mirage III, 2014, Courtesy of the artists, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Project Native Informant, London