kennardphillipps - artists peter kennard and cat phillips

Peace On Earth banned by Orange nationwide poster drop

for the Twelve Days of Christmas we protect the streets up and down the country

big thanks to JACKARTS, BUILDHOLLYWOOD and Ade Burnham for his good will and great writing

may this year burn bright in the dark future that lies ahead

PEACE ON EARTH

 

Once upon a time there was a plan to visit sweetness and light across the land. Well, London. Erstwhile mobile phone giant Orange coughed up the necessary and charged none other than Saint Bob Geldof to ring round a few famous pals to see if they would nominate artists whose work might grace capital city landmarks via projected images that spoke to peace on earth at Christmas time.

 

Not exactly a new idea. But potentially a goer. You’d have thought anyway. Pop star Damon Albarn gave it his best shot. He nominated works by Banksy and kennardphillipps. For the art/activist duo Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps this was, “A chance to use a public place to make an iconic image that would reflect the hopes of millions, to make an image of hope after a year of war.”

 

And so it came to pass. In 2003, as part of their joint research prior to submitting an image for Orange’s ‘Brighten Up London’ project, Kennard and Phillipps found themselves in The National Gallery. At the time, in Room 32, ‘The Virgin in Prayer’ by the Italian artist Sassoferrato caught their eye and a number of ideas and themes coalesced resulting in a piece the art duo would put forward for projection.

 

For their ‘Peace on Earth’ work kennardphillipps swapped the face of the Virgin Mary in Sassoferrato’s deeply devotional portrait for an image of planet earth seen from space. Above her bowed head, where you might expect to see a halo, there’s a slanted iteration of CND’s peace symbol. Conscientious objector Gerald Holtom, writing to the editor of Peace News, explained the origins of his 1958 design: ‘I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself, the representative of an individual in despair, with palms outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.’

 

kennardphillipps’ ‘Peace on Earth’ figure radiates spiritual, campaigning and existential concerns against an impenetrable, forebodingly dark background. It’s arguably even more apt for display now than it was almost twenty years ago. Wars haven’t gone away: the UK remains the second biggest arms exporter. Awareness of the climate disaster has ratcheted up considerably: not that this is reflected in concerted global governmental action. And we’re slowly accepting that the pandemic is a phenomena which can only be tackled effectively if the earth addresses the matter compassionately and collectively. To do that requires peace. Or at the very least cooperation.

 

Back in the day, when kennardphillipps’ meaningful and conscience-pricking image was set to appear for ‘Brighten Up London’, the sponsor Orange it turned out weren’t quite as committed to the mission statement on their website as they’d have us believe. When the artists went to view their stark, compelling détournement it had been swapped for domestic goddess Nigella Lawson’s mince pies. Banksy’s work featuring the Saviour doing a bit of last minute Xmas shopping was similarly nixed.

 

Orange’s PR at the time explained they wanted something that would appeal to little children and grandparents. It’s worth noting that this was precisely when ‘grannies’ were busy trying to stop nuclear submarines from using the River Clyde as a base. And as Chris Morrison, Albarn’s manager at the time, observed, “The images make points that people may find a little bit uncomfortable. But Christmas itself is about the birth of Jesus Christ, who stood up for what he believed in. He made contentious statements and asked awkward questions.”

 

On the cusp of a new year BUILDHOLLYWOOD are delighted to be showing ‘Peace on Earth’ across display sites nationwide. Of course, its initial ‘censorship’ means the work has long been recognised and celebrated in certain circles but resurrecting kennardphillipps’ image in the public realm now is both a timely provocation and reminder that if we want to save the planet from corporate greed we have to go beyond making consumerism more sustainable. If we want to lessen military conflict we need to promote peace and stop making and selling arms to dodgy regimes. If we want to overcome a global pandemic the world needs to work together. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

 

Adrian Burnham