Do Black Swans Dream of Electric Sheep?

In just a few hours here at Studio-X NYC—an off-campus event space and urban futures think tank run by Columbia’s GSAPP—we’ll be hosting a live interview with Ilona Gaynor. Gaynor is a London-based concept artist, filmmaker, and multimedia designer.

As Gaynor explains it, her work “largely consists of artificially constructed spaces, systems and atmospheres navigated through fictional scenarios,” her intention being “to intensify, fantasize and aestheticize the darker, invisible reaches of political, economical and technological progress. Grounded in rigorous research, consultation and collaboration,” she continues, “my aim is to reveal these worlds by exploring the imaginary limits within them both as critique and speculative pleasure.”

Most of Gaynor’s work has a strong financial bent, as you’ll notice from her portfolio, whether it’s the photographic series “Corporate Heaven,” a research project on insurance and risk, the short film Suspicion Builds Confidence, or even a “fictional artifact designed for the corporate world of tomorrow.”

Her most recent short film, Everything Ends In Chaos, embedded at the start of this post, presents “a mixed-media collection of objects, narrative texts and films that reveal the intricate trajectories of an artificially designed and reverse engineered Black Swan event.” A Black Swan, in Gaynor’s telling of it, based on the economic work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is the idea that humans “are collectively and individually blind to uncertainty, and therefore often unaware of the impact that singular events can have on [their] lives: economically, historically and scientifically, until after their occurrence.” Her film is thus an attempt to “reverse-engineer” such an event, piecing together chaos from order; the film’s backstory, which is unfortunately quite hard to detect from the imagery alone, involves an elaborate kidnapping plot, stolen jewels force-fed to doves (which then escape from their cage and fly away), and an actuarial committee in charge of insuring against this event.

In another work, nature—that is, non-human lifeforms, especially plants—has become so expensive and, thus, so out of reach for everyday workers—in Gaynor’s future, for example, a single Ficus tree costs £450,000—that indulging in any interaction with the natural world becomes an experience of “unapologetic decadence.” That film, 120 Seconds of Future, is embedded below:

Gaynor kicks things off at 7pm tonight—Wednesday, 12 October—to be followed by an open Q&A. We’ll be at Studio-X NYC, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610. Here’s a map.

(More on Studio-X NYC, earlier on BLDGBLOG).

4 thoughts on “Do Black Swans Dream of Electric Sheep?”

  1. "the film's backstory, which is unfortunately quite hard to detect from the imagery alone.."

    You're being much too kind. There is no "backstory" to this film. For a backstory to exist there must be a narrative for it to fit into. What we have here is a three-image montage, rendered in numbing slow-motion. The viewer can make up whatever story he or she wishes (if able to tolerate the gratuitous slo-mo).

  2. I saw Ilona's work (this piece in fact in Paris) and it's fantastic, I can assure you there is an elaborate backstory… If you actually look this piece on her website you would notice that. The project wasn't just these films, but a large narrative in detail with accompanied objects.

    She even wrote a book!

    Mind-numbing slow mo… nonsense and as for "gratuitous" if you actually knew what you were talking about, you would realise that the point she was making was to capture an instance within the backstory.

  3. I think so, too. There are references made – visually and aesthetically to existing imagery/films/writings/art work, but with missing out to create an unique point of view.

    (For example "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick, or "Suspicion Breeds Confidence", artificial propaganda in "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam)

    It appears generic and atmospheric – but is far from narrating content.

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