By A. Moret
Arguably the most recognizable and destructive piece of artillery in the world, the AK-47 is quite literally loaded with symbology. Developed in the Soviet Union by Russian small-arms designer Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947, the assault rifle forever changed the landscape of weaponry. The acronym of the AK-47 is not only synonymous with the abbreviation for “automatic Kalashnikov,” but it is also deeply ingrained within our cultural lexicon. The unmistakable silhouette is imbued with a visceral power that fires a resounding echo in the mind without ever pulling the trigger. For Bran Symondson, a photographer, sculptor, philanthropist, and former soldier based in London, the AK-47 was once a weapon of defense while on the ground in Afghanistan and has since become a canvas to spread messages of hope and unity.
Symondson transforms deactivated rifles retrieved from conflict zones in the Middle East with intricate collages of dollar bills delicately scalloped from their printed frame. He replaces bullets with items retrieved in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The artist now presents an AK-47 unique to his creative journey and has also assigned a new name that has been unchanged since 1947: “KRYPTO KALASH.” The one-off piece will be auctioned as an original artwork and will come with an NFT certifying its authenticity.
In 2004, Symondson started the selection process to join the British Army Special Forces Reserves. In 2007 he found himself embedded into the Afghan National Police, working to instill order in a place that greatly resisted his efforts. While documenting his journey with a point and shoot camera, Symondson noticed that the AK-47s used by civilians and soldiers alike were often adorned with stickers along the stock, receiver and magazine, and even had fresh flowers extending from the front sight. The silent gesture of decorating lethal rifles with delicate design elements struck the artist because it exhibited a sensitivity toward a weapon that was grossly misunderstood and even glamorized in Hollywood. A tool that symbolized militarism, fear, greed and capitalism also united the “good” and the “bad” guys. Upon returning home, Symondson began transforming weapons into sculptures to disarm the singular narrative of fear.
“The beautiful thing about the AK-47 is its simplicity, and the shape, and that’s why it’s since [become] universally recognizable,” he explains. He first began by placing organic forms like origami butterflies floating around the silhouette and soon after, he started integrating currency over the stark surface. In reflecting on the transition from Reservist to civilian life, Symondson had to separate his past from the present. “When I first started making them, I was very much [aware that I was] holding a weapon that people used to shoot at me with.” He continues being struck by the details of each rifle:
“There’s a history and story behind them. You’ll see people’s names engraved on them, and some of them are battle worn. While I’m working [I thought] ‘this article in front of me could have physically taken lives and protected lives simultaneously.'”
“KRYPTO KALASH,” aims to transform the instantaneous symbolism of the AK-47 from that of terrorism and revolution into a sculpture that contemplates the value of currency as it transitions from paper to crypto, and replaces bullets with glass shells filled with objects retrieved from the Middle East. Creating a collage with real dollar bills and Bitcoin and Ethereum symbols rendered in the same green hue, the artist felt aware that he was actively taking a bill out of circulation.
“The dollar bill is a very symbolic currency. It’s known across the world. It has an immediacy to it. And for me, it sums up lots of different emotions—it sums up greed, wealth, safety. I imagine taking that single dollar bill out of circulation forever and then it becomes an art piece in its own right.”
While the Treasury can continue to print money and release currency into circulation, there are only a finite number of Bitcoin, and Ethereum, which has no limit in general but releases a maximum of 18 million new coins per year, incurs a gas fee. In this sense, “KRYPTO KALASH” also questions the sustainability of the crypto currency model as it takes a great deal of energy and resources to create a form of currency that cannot be touched.
Always one to collect artifacts from places that he has visited, the artist created seven unique glass bullets that contain objects from the Afghan desert. Inside of the magazine there is a meticulously crafted set that contains elements that reference nature, science and technology. One bullet contains a snakeskin retrieved on tour that represents the shedding of an old skin and a changing of the guard from the traditional system of currency to a new one. Another shell contains blood shed in the name of greed, next to diamonds that accentuate the focus on material wealth. Copper wire is inserted within another glass shell nodding to technological advancements like electricity while another features the newly created £50 note featuring mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing, who helped the Allies win World War II with his masterful code breaking. Finally, a set of shells and pearls that allude to the early days of trading and the transition from organic matter to paper and digital currency indicates the changing nature of perceived value. The final bullet contains a chain that contextualizes the esoteric blockchain.
“KRYPTO KALASH” honors the weight and power associated with an iconic weapon but simultaneously disarms us with its unexpected beauty. The sculpture contemplates the state of the future that is moving toward the untouchable and digital future but grounds us in the weight of history.
Bran Symondson’s AK-47 artworks can be viewed at HOFA gallery where he is represented in Mayfair London.