This Artist Tells Multimedia Crime Stories By Questioning the Justice System

Mixed-media artist Ilona Gaynor uses her breadth of financial and legal knowledge to tell inward-facing stories of the justice system.
January 26, 2017, 5:55pm

All images courtesy the artist

An artist's slick, probing designs tell ripping stories of crime and justice, and just as abruptly, calls her revealing stories into question. Incorporating a wide range of materials and forms—film, text, architecture, and more—multimedia artist, Ilona Gaynor, creates cohesive, believable narratives that are at once entertaining, and make the viewer question who can be trusted and what facts can be believed.

Gaynor will be taking part in a panel at this weekend’s Design Festival, being held at the A/D/O creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and supported by MINI Business Innovation. As part of The Creators Project panel, Gaynor will be discussing utopian visions on equality, and how designers can help to conceive of and help create a better future and drive societal change.


She’s well-suited to such an imagining of the future. While she invents situations and characters in her works, they are built on a foundation of realistic situations and believable details that lend them a high level of plausibility. For example, her work Objection!!! uses scale models, courtroom sketches, short films, and a packed sound stage, complete with props, camera directions, and shooting scripts, to present a court case in which a national lottery is shown to be fixed. While the case is fictional, she worked closely with lawyers through its conception to ensure she was creating a credible case and courtroom atmosphere.

For her work Under Black Carpets, Gaynor collaborated with the FBI New York Department of Justice and Los Angeles Police Department’s Archival Department to make a detailed forensic model in which five banks are robbed in Los Angeles simultaneously. She uses this believability to help undermine the notion of objective truth or conventional wisdom, exploring how fragmented facts can be used to construct different narratives, depending on the viewer.

Gaynor’s interest in believability and the depth of her research has led her to create the consultancy, the Department of No in 2012. Clients that reach out to the organization tap into Gaynor’s detailed knowledge of law, finance, and architecture enhance her ability to conceive detailed hypotheticals which pose potential risks to an organization or industry,  and the means to overcome them. The Department of No specializes in what Gaynor calls “black sky thinking,” aiming to help clients in national or private security, insurance, and technology industries.

But art remains her driving focus, and the medium through which Gaynor explores big stories and actions in law and financial crime. Her work Everything Ends in Chaos tells a tale of a senator’s kidnapped wife and the events that result, using this individual story to tell a much bigger tale of global financial disaster. The work is a mixed-media collection of objects, narrative texts, and films that map out precisely how one small action could, realistically, disrupt the entire world.


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