The Long Con: Ilona Gaynor’s Under Black Carpets

Untitledwords by Sinead Nunes, Editor

We all have our doubts and suspicions about the legitimacy and credibility of the legal system, but could it be possible that lawyers in America are actually hiring artists to ‘design’ evidence to support their cases? According to Ilona Gaynor, whose exhibition Under Black Carpets has just opened at FACT, this is exactly what is going on.

Ilona Gaynor’s artistic practice is as fascinating as it is complicated. Graduating from the RCA in 2011, Gaynor quickly catapulted herself to artistic infamy and her endeavours since that point read like a cinematic narrative rather than the life story of a humble artist from Birmingham. Attracted to exploring the undeniable interrelations between pop culture and true crime, Gaynor started her long-term research project-cum-art experiment in 2012 and the fruits of her labour are now on display.

From fraternising with financiers, to training at the Los Angeles Police Academy and conspiring with East Coast private investigators straight out of a film noir, Gaynor has been able to experience what it is truly like to enter the mindset of a police officer, whilst simultaneously discovering how easy it is to obtain seemingly classified information from lawyers, insurance salesmen and anti-terror enforcers to create intricately weaved fictional plots for her work.

Under Black Carpets is the product of this first-hand research, for which Gaynor has collated what she has learnt to create a collection of courtroom-worthy pieces of evidence, which she invites visitors to inspect, consider and combine into their own narrative – much like the juries of the American courtroom. The display is eerie and engaging, enveloping onlookers in the tale of a fictional bank heist as they try to unravel an unsolvable and irrational crime scene.

Echoing what actually goes on in modern US courtrooms, Gaynor’s ‘evidence’ acts as a life sentence for her unwitting plastic model suspects, whose fate rests in the hands of the viewer and their impressionable deductions. It is incredible to think that thanks to a loophole in the law, designers are now routinely brought in to imagine what a crime scene and its content may have looked like, aiding potentially corrupt legal advisors in totally fictitious lawsuits against defendants.

“Through the power of invention, you can design, create and produce whatever you want” – a hard-hitting fact when you consider the implications that art could have on the law. Who would have thought it? Stripped from the curriculum and at odds with constant cuts to funding, here we see how art has the potential to control arguably the toughest judicial system on the planet.

And what of the work itself? For me, anything that calls politics and the very truths we hold dear into question is powerful enough to make me stop, look and think. Gaynor’s scale architectural models have a beautiful simplicity, whilst her tiny sculpted figures of would-be criminals, law enforcers and civilians present a puppet-master style reality to the events suggested by the interpretation texts. Test out your powers of objectivity and see if you can piece together enough evidence for a conviction.