Following on from their Achievements in Swiss Summit exhibition during London’s Frieze week last month, the celebrations continue for the GCC art collective, at Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler gallery. In their second show as a ‘delegation’ named after the regional government body, Gulf Cooperation Council, Ceremonial Achievements again pulls focuses on parade over practicality. Now in the hands of politicians and officials, the PR campaign of success well-celebrated in the Gulf is passed on as its nine artists -spanning Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, and including Khalid Al Gharaballi, Fatima and Monira Al Qadiri, and Sophia Al-Maria -investigate traditions and icons of self-congratulations.
A screen on the floor projects ‘Ceremonial Projects in Motion’, a video of stately-looking men in the traditional Arabic thobe with large scissors in their hands cutting inaugurating ribbons. They smile and lift their hands as the tape falls and crowds applaud, before a new clip of a similar ritual begins. In each one, the same characters mimic the same ceremony, leaving one disoriented and dislocated: are we applauding the opening of a new shopping mall, with shiny floors, in Kuwait, or is it a children’s hospital in Qatar? Solemnly proud music plays alongside it, while this parody of personal victory, in self-promotion repeated, becomes absurd; the characters themselves becoming caricatures, without overstatement.
At the center of the room, a smaller screen shows a glowing and outlined presenter gesticulating in front of a projection of similar video loops in ‘Protocols for Achievements’. Screening information in Arabic beneath her, the presenter could be reporting the news or presenting said ‘protocols’ to her audience. Only, its impossible to tell by her body language alone as she stands mute. There’s no concrete information to draw from the text, doubtless incomprehensible to many a Berliner viewer, as she mimes in time with the sound from ‘Ceremonial Projects in Motion’ echoing throughout the whole exhibition.
Hanging on a nearby wall, an image from the GCC’s induction in Switzerland earlier this year (as well as the earlier London show), ‘Inaugural Summit, Morschach 2013, 7’, shows three figures, presumably men, sat on a picnic blanket on the bitumen and sharing tea, photographed only from the waist down. Again, it’s not so much the content of the image, or even the identity of its subjects but the ceremony around it that matters.
Spanning the width of a wall in the inner space of the two-room gallery, the most visible piece in Ceremonial Achievements is enacted. It’s a screening of a make-believe ribbon ceremony by GCC, taking place in a grand hall. Several people take part by standing still, forming a circle and holding a red ribbon between them. The other three walls of the room display photos of the same event, a series called ‘Ceremonial Sphere’, taken from different perspectives and digitally printed on circular aluminium dibond. A marble veneer stall stands proudly in front of the large-scale projection, presenting a trophy-like ship’s wheel. With a map of the world at the centre of this golden sculpture, ‘Berlin Congratulant’ echoes the same glass sculptures from the GCC’s Achievements in Swiss Summit. As before, the source of these ‘achievements’ and their outcomes are nowhere to be found, the round shapes, circular motion and endless repetition leading to nothing. **