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Artist Designing the Perfect Bank Heist

Pieces of the "Under Black Carpets" story
Pieces of the “Under Black Carpets” story (all images courtesy the artist)

There may be no such thing as a perfect heist, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a beautifully designed one. That’s the idea behind London-based designer Ilona Gaynor‘s “Under Black Carpets” project, which looks at the architecture of a city landscape as both an aid and a detriment in her evolving story of a meticulously planned robbery.

Ilona Gaynor at the LAPD
Ilona Gaynor and the LAPD
Characters in "Under Black Carpets"
Characters in “Under Black Carpets”

It’s best to be upfront here: Gaynor isn’t actually going to rob a bank. But she is going to know everything about it. For the past two years she’s engaged with research, and even collaborated with the FBI, New York Department of Justice, and LAPD, to explore all the details of what it would take to rob five banks simultaneously. The completed project is planned to be exhibited this September at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, but due to a shortfall in funding from the festival, she’s using Kickstarter to get accomplices.

“A robbery presents a true architectural context in which walls (glass and masonry) separate you from the prize, it allows you to reinterpret the built environment through an extreme spatial scenario,” Gaynor explained to Hyperallergic. “A robbery is also simply a counter-manual to how buildings are constructed. You have to visualize how a building needs to be deconstructed before you map and attempt to break in.”

Graphics for "Under Black Carpets"
Graphics for “Under Black Carpets”

The robbery centers on banks around One Wilshire in downtown Los Angeles, and is as elaborate as the most action-packed film. A replica of a plane is dropped onto One Wilshire causing panic and allowing the surrounding five banks to be robbed. In fact, her first year of research had funding from the Ridley Scott Associates Residency award, and it’s definitely the design of the cinematic that flows through her sleek scale models of the architecture and even miniature characters that play as bystanders or participants in the scene. The whole thing is going to be showcased as her own police investigation, complete with sculptures, films, photography, and the results of her intense investigation into bank robbery with forensic experts, attorneys, and other specialists. A book will compile all of this into a seven-chapter narrative with chapter titles centered on key points in the plot like “THE DISTRACTION AT ONE WILSHIRE,” “THE GETAWAY,” and “ALIBIS.”

Scale model of the heist site
Scale model of the heist site
Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Lisbon, Portugal, where "Under Black Carpets" will be exhibited
Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Lisbon, Portugal, where “Under Black Carpets” will be exhibited

“I’ve always been interested in crime, it is the driving force behind, political, cultural and technological change,” Gaynor stated. “What I mean by that is, it is the ‘criminals’ that instigate change. In their attempts to break and manipulate their surroundings, something new always surfaces. My practice as a designer focuses on the role of designer to serve as the plotter, the schemer, the master planner, rather then the craftsman. There is a large, long forgotten history of design that positioned designers as the enemy. Design was considered to be a weapon of the weak, an appropriation of cunning intelligence, an enabler of sorts.”

An initial phase of “Under Black Carpets” was shown last summer at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and at the triennale the project will be installed in the empty headquarters of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino beneath the MUDE Design and Fashion Museum in Lisbon. The plan for an ideal robbery housed in a money safeguard.

Scale model of One Wilshire
Scale model of One Wilshire

Ilona Gaynor’s “Under Black Carpets” is funding on Kickstarter through June 20. Her solo exhibition at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale opens September 12 and shows through December 15.

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