Under Black Carpets by Ilona Gaynor


29 May 2013

"It is about a heist," says Ilona Gaynor. "It is also not about a heist."

Which is as good an introduction as any to Under Black Carpets, a new project from Gaynor, a critical designer and graduate from the Royal College of Art's Design Interactions MA. Having previously studied moving image design at Ravensbourne college, Gaynor's work is centred around design as plot, with Under Black Carpets taking the form of a collection of evidence created around a fictional heist of five banks surrounding the One Wilshire skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles.

The exhibition is due to open as part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale in September 2013, showing in the vault of the city's recently closed Banco Nacional Ultramarino's headquarters, but in response to falling budgets at the festival, has now launched on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

"The project is about a heist, but it is also about how an opinion is represented in the American justice system," says Gaynor. "It’s using design to craft something that could be considered a plot rather than a piece of craft itself, such as a chair or a table."

The works to be displayed in the exhibition range from architectural models, to technical drawings, sculptures, films and photography. The exhibition contents, purposefully styled after court exhibits, recount the plot of the robbery, although that plot is mediated through one's interpretation of the exhibits; the bank robbery itself serving as a vehicle for an analysis of its recounting.

In this sense, the exhibition plays with the architect and intellectual Eyal Weizman's notion of forensic aesthetics, broadly understood as the way in which an object is presented in forum. "It’s specifically looking at the way police in the US translate and present how things happen," says Gaynor.

"They will always start or end a sentence with, ‘Oh yeah, it happened just like in that movie.’ Anyone who has been to LA knows it centres itself around the film industry, but it really takes itself seriously enough to assess crimes by saying things like ‘It was just like in that movie Heat.’ That’s how they describe what happens."

The planned exhibits are eccentric - a drilling system referencing Gordon Matta-Clark's sectional cuts of buildings; a motel on the back of a truck as a getaway vehicle - yet all are based on meticulous research, Gaynor having collaborated with LA attorneys, and groups such as the FBI and the New York Department of Justice.

"The way the narrative is constructed isn’t a shot in the dark," says Gaynor. "The motel getaway sounds like a bad movie, but I spoke to various attorneys about robbing a safe in LA - ripping it out in its entirety, uncracked - and if you carted that to Alaska for instance, your sentence would be much decreased from your sentence in LA. So it makes more sense to drag it to Alaska disguised in a motel, and crack it there."

Gaynor's project also saw close collaboration with the LAPD and participation in police classes and training. "I went to LA and hung out in the police canteen until they began to speak to me," says Gaynor. "I was there every day and I really don’t look like an LA cop. So I was there just asking questions about the size of their guns, the food they were eating; more or less trying to be charming enough so they would start talking to me. The relationship grew from there."

The project, which early on in its development secured funding from the film director Sir Ridley Scott, will be billed as an architecture project at the Lisbon Triennale (subject to the success of its Kickstarter campaign), signalling a recurring pattern in Gaynor's nascent career.

"The work I've done since I graduated from the RCA two years ago has always been picked up by the architectural field," she says. "Architects seem to understand design as a plot much more so than many designers. I think it’s to do with strategy and the idea that design can be a series of forces acting on one another, rather than just the experience of an object.

"But because I'm interested in plot and because I come from a background in film, the experiences I draw on are things I’ve seen in films and it’s an endless need to figure out what the hell those are. Can these ridiculous moments that happen in film happen in real life? How do you make films happen for real? I want design to have the captivation of film."