The AKA Peace exhibition is currently on at the ICA, a project curated by Jake Chapman for the non-profit organisation Peace One Day, which asks high profile artists to re-imagine the Ak47. The AK47 is one of the deadliest inventions of the 20th century; present in every war, traded internationally and practically indestructible. Certainly a fit subject for artistic response, and the responses here are rich and varied.
Anthony Gormley’s trademark metal man, this time in outline only, opens the exhibition in Silence; he floats in the air and is silhouetted against the wall, the rifle lodged in his stomach reaching up to his mouth. Ethereal and visceral at the same time, it’s a striking piece of sculpture, invoking torture and sacrifice, greed and death. Douglas Gordon’s installation, Sketch for an AK47 Samovar, placing the rifle on a grand piano with tea cups and the Russian teamaker, while powerful, doesn’t go far enough. I wanted to see the rifle’s muzzle transformed into a tea spout, the real thing rather than a sketch, really piercing the heart of Gordon’s nod to the high society where both tea and war culture reside.
Contrived and underwhelming (sorry Jake), the notorious Chapman Brothers, famous for the 2003 mannequin children with genitalia in place of facial features, produced – wait for it – mannequin children with genitalia for faces, with rifles. Damien Hirst obviously couldn’t be arsed and banged out a rifle spin-painted like all the other spin paintings he’s done, weakly entitled Spin AK47 for Peace One Day; he was the only artist who didn’t bother to make a comment about his work. I guess there really wasn’t anything to say. Sarah Lucas has wrapped some stuffed tights around the AK. Ditto, no comment needed.
The stand-out piece for me was Lalla Shawa’s intricately decorated Where Souls Dwell, closely followed by Solange Azagury-Partridge’s Petrified; both transform the weapon into a thing of beauty, transcendental memorials to the dead rather than indictments of the act of killing. Azagury-Partridge refashions the rifle out of petrified wood in deep, textured hues and Shawa decorates it intricately with flowers, butterflies and jewels, traditional – even cliched – metaphors for the soul, but so gloriously realised and unusually framed that you can’t fail to be moved.
For a more political slant, Bryan Symondson’s Commodities takes the biscuit. He wraps his AK in currency and his magazine is loaded with the spoils of war- blood, gold, coal, cocaine. Matt Collishaw plays it sonorous and makes his rifle into a spade, barely needing his own portentous by-line, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ Antony Micallif provides the only painting in the show, a huge and sinister behemoth that could easily be used as a poster for a horror movie. Which isn’t necessarily a criticism. It certainly outshines the only photograph, Marc Quinn’s sentimental shots of children playing with toy guns.
Less heavy-handed than these but more satisfying is Gavin Turks’ Entropic AK47, a rifle ground into dust. As Seen On TV is, at first glance, more understated than I expected from that loveable rogue Jeremy Deller. Deller mounts his AK and surrounds it with quotes about the assault rifle lifted from stuff on TV, from movies to interviews to shows. In typical Deller style, his touch is light but when he shoots, he hits the mark, finding the words that most underline the relevance of this thought-provoking exhibition and the atrocity of the AK47; ‘You get rich by giving the poorest people in the world the means to kill themselves…those nuclear weapons, they sit in their silos.Your Ak47, that’s the real weapon of mass destruction’ (Jack Valentine).
All works referred to were created in 2012.
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