Much of the recent work of GCC–the group of artists whose eight members hail from various Persian Gulf countries, and whose name references the acronym for a regional political and economic alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council–has focused on the growing popularity in the area, among both governments and the wider populace, of the "positive energy" movement.
GCC: GOOD MORNING GCC uses the tropes of daytime television talk shows across the Arab world, alongside references to Nam June Paik’s [satellite broadcast] Good Morning Mr. Orwell , Glenn O’Brien’s [1978-82 public access television show] TV Party, Chris Burden’s commercials and other artists who have used television’s potential to communicate to a wider audience. Arab TV networks have popularised the talk show format—which ranges from political to conversational—and cover many of the topics we are addressing in our programme. They reflect the trends and interests of the region, while creating a sense of connectivity.
The show charted the flourishing popularity in the Gulf of "positive lifestyle" practices - encompassing anything from yoga and healthy eating to New Age spiritualties - as well as their instrumentalization by governments as technologies of control.
The work’s über-slick visual identity—and the very global and mostly digitally connected nature of GCC’s delegates—has placed GCC among the post-internet art movement’s greatest stars. “GCC keeps knocking it out of the park,” says the Whitney’s Christopher Lew of the collective, who he’s tapped for a new commission for the 2017 Whitney Biennial he’s curating along with Mia Locks. Referencing Positive Pathways (+), he adds, “As mindfulness and new age belief has been adopted by both individuals and corporations, GCC brings to light how the Gulf nations have brought these ideas into government. Their look at the theater and substance of nationhood is pressing now more than ever.”
With its Mitchell-Innes & Nash show, GCC has become like a healer, drawing on the healthy living and positive lifestyle trends currently taking the Gulf region by storm. Positive Pathways (+) (Version II), 2016, an installation similar to one that debuted at this year’s DIS-curated Berlin Biennale, features a sculpture performing the Quantum Touch technique, a form of non-contact touch therapy. (A few days earlier, the members could be seen putting down sand around the sculpture, which, when it was shown in Berlin, was at the center of a teardrop-shaped racetrack.) Nearby is a series of relief works based on stills from YouTube videos that, with their velvety red surfaces, recall fabrics in Titian paintings and over-decorated homes.
GCC’s first exhibition with the gallery, which features multiple wall pieces, a sculptural installation, and sound work, is concerned with the evolution of various holistic practices—such as alternative healing and life coaching—that are gaining significant influence in Arab Gulf states. The eight artists who make up the collective are all strongly connected to the UAE and the Middle East, and their acronym loosely references that of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Here, they examine the multifocused, multifaceted synthesis of philosophies that fall under the rubric of “Positive Lifestyle” and the implications such Western, New Age ideas have in the context of the Gulf’s ultramodern, constitutionally Islamic societies.
While the power of positive thinking—a popular if fuzzily defined lifestyle credo coined by author Norman Vincent Peale—is a familiar idea to most Americans, the slogan (if not the concept) is largely unknown in the Middle East. In its Mitchell-Innes & Nash debut, the six-member Arab artist “delegation” GCC (an allusion to the Gulf Cooperation Council) focuses on the growth of Cali-style personal realization in its part of the world—and what may get lost in translation. It’s an intriguing subject, but while this exhibition expands on a previous project for the most recent Berlin Biennale, it still barely scrapes the surface.
“The idea of happiness is insidiously used to quell dissent,” GCC member Fatima Al Qadiri told me on the exhibition’s opening day on Thursday, at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash. According to the party line among the powers that be, if you’re unhappy, never mind actual social problems, she said: “You’re just not being positive!”
“Positive Pathways (+),” an exhibition of works by artist collective GCC, will be on display at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York from October 13 through November 26.