There’s an ineffable beauty in a well-planned heist. At its best, it’s proof that shrewd problem-solving can prevail against seemingly insurmountable challenges—and in that way, they’re very much like any good design work. But while most of us leave such endeavors to the Thomas Crownes and Danny Oceans of the world (or their own fictional ones), artist Ilona Gaynor is pursuing a different approach. She’s planning an elaborate heist, stopping short of actually committing a crime, and calling it art.
Gaynor has been working on Under Black Carpets for the last several years, and she’s currently trying to raise funds on Kickstarter to see it through to completion. The basic idea is to plan a heist targeting five banks clustered in downtown Los Angeles, culminating in an exhibition of artifacts, dossiers, and documents from a fictional police investigation of the crime after the fact. Visitors then act as a sort of detective, moving between the models, statements, photographs, and the rest, putting together the plot in their minds piece by piece.
In a sense, it’s a murder mystery approach to the bank heist, with Gaynor as the host leaving a trail of clues for the participants. "My practice positions the designer as the plotter, the master planner, and the schemer rather than that of the craftsman," she writes. "I as the designer am presenting the coordinates and landmarks in order for an audience to frame and piece together through one political persuasion or another: the what, the where, the how and the why."
And she’s been taking the role quite seriously. In addition to researching forensic science, reading memoirs of cops and criminals alike, and watching "every film ever made about bank robberies," Gaynor started hanging out at a watering hole at the LAPD Police Academy, where she picked policemen’s brains about the nitty-gritty of real-world bank robberies. Eventually, Gaynor started doing a bit of training herself, getting her feet wet with ballistics training and other routine policework.
In those talks, Gaynor says, police would regularly use films as reference points for their nonfictional heist tales, "a real life sweep of conversations that fluidly moved between fact and fiction." They proved just how much our idea of the heist is tied up with Hollywood’s version of it, a sort of liminal existence that’s well suited to her oblique, retrospective take. In a police investigation, she says, "time can become muddled, facts are embellished, lies are told and … memory can often act to pollute the truth. It’s filmic and complex because of all these layers."