in One Takes | 25 OCT 11
Featured in
Issue 38

Picture Piece: AK-47

The little black dress of the Military-Industrial complex

in One Takes | 25 OCT 11

photograph: Theo Coulombe

Many artists today are keen on blurring the distinction between art and design, and rightfully so, since once you admit that anything is grist for the art mill, the next logical step is to design your own products as works of art. Of course, art that looks like design is considerably shy of good design: those objects that, through their selection and use by a discriminating public, over time accrue the status of cultural artefact.

There is no better example of this process than the AK-47: with over 70 million produced, it is the most popular assault rifle in the world. Designed 50 years ago by Mikhail Kalashnikov, an engineer living in Udmurtiya, the Automatic Kalashnikov can withstand extreme temperatures, excessive use, and being caked in snow and mud and still fire ten rounds per second. However impressive or appalling that might be, the AK-47 is admirable for no other reason than it has not been superseded, an amazing feat given the quintillions spent on military technology. Simply put, the AK-47 is the little black dress of the Military-Industrial complex.

Which would suggest that, like good design, good art is not that which claims to be good but that which, good or evil, persists. As one of the more eloquent troublemakers in his own time, Charles Rennie Macintosh, said: ‘there is more hope in honest terror than in the icy perfection of stylists’.