It was whilst serving in the army that photographer Bran Symondson became fascinated by the Afghan National Police force and their cultural idiosyncrasies, including the way in which they adorned their AK47’s with roses and stickers...
It was whilst serving in the army that photographer Bran Symondson became fascinated by the Afghan National Police force and their cultural idiosyncrasies, including the way in which they adorned their AK47’s with roses and stickers. Captured in a series of incredibly candid portraits, Symondson presented a unique insight into this hidden world with an exhibition entitled The Best View Of Heaven Is From Hell. For his latest project, AKA Peace, Symondson collaborated with Jake Chapman in inviting 23 artists including Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Jeremy Deller, Tim Noble and Sue Webster to refashion decommissioned AK47’s into works of art. The works will be going under the hammer today at Phillips Du Pury to raise money for Peace One Day.
You mentioned that you had a boyish fantasy of the army. Did it live up to the romantic expectations you had?
Being in the army is 90% boredom 10% excitement. It goes from flash to bang in an instant. And I think that’s the same with conflict. I think what I try to show in my original images is that there is beauty in all situations. I think there is a beautiful side to humans, however harsh the environment is.
What are some of the challenges in presenting an object like an AK47 in an aesthetic context?
To be honest I haven’t really found any challenges. We all know what it does and we all know what it stands for. So you’re then looking at it with curiosity and it becomes an object of beauty and intrigue. I think that’s what I tried to do with this. Because then you’re showing the voyeur and the world that something more can happen with something as simple as a killing machine, such as an AK47.
So you are transforming something that is a symbol of war into a symbol of hope?
That’s the idea. To be honest, I don’t think I am changing the world here, just highlighting the obvious really. All I’m doing as an artist is using my medium to get the message across, as is every other artist involved in the project. And we’ve all done it differently: some have done it to make it look disgusting and some have done it to make it look beautiful.
"We’ve all done it differently: some have done it to make it look disgusting and some have done it to make it look beautiful."
What do you think is the relationship between art and war?
I think it’s a close one because I think anyone who's been through a war zone can often use art to express their experiences. The first world war was built on poetry, and now there are a lot of documentaries being made.
How did you and Jake Chapman decide on the artists to involve in the project?
There wasn’t a magic moment where we all sat around the table to choose who it was. I got five of the artists involved because I personally knew them. I thought it was important to get a good mixture of artists you know; some unheard of, and then some big names who fortunately Jake had the in with. He put the feelers out and we were really overwhelmed with the response because naturally, its not just working on the AK47, it’s why we are doing it and that’s to raise funds for Peace One Day.
Did you brief the artists or were they allowed complete freedom?
No, not at all – sometimes there was a bit of confusion “of do I do something on it or do I do something with it?” And I was just saying, “do what the hell you want with it, its yours – it’s a blank canvas”.
Were there any reinterpretations of the AK47 that particularly surprised you or really stand apart?
I love Gavin Turk’s because he just very simplistically ground it down to dust so you can’t get more de-conditioned than that. They are all quite amazing in their own right. Nancy Fouts is quite beautiful because she took the time to go and hand pick all these rose thorns and then she sprayed them silver and glued them on. When you see them together they all have their own personality which suits the artist, and you really appreciate how these great artists think and work differently.
The AKA Peace auction takes place today at 7:30pm at Phillips de Pury & Company, London.
Text by Caroline Lever