“The take-home message of Allan McCollum’s latest endeavor is that there’s nothing more common than being unique—everyone on the planet is.“
Allan McCollum’s current exhibition consists of works in three different media made over almost 20 years, but all part of “The Shapes Project.” The artist describes the project by saying the following:
“Working over the past few years, I’ve designed a new system to produce unique two-dimensional “shapes.” This system allows me to make enough unique shapes for every person on the planet to have one of their own. It also allows me to keep track of the shapes, so as to insure that no two will ever be alike. Following the present rate of birth, it is generally estimated that the world population will “peak” sometime during the middle of the present century, and then possibly begin to decline. How many people will be alive at this peak are estimated at between 8 billion and 20 billion people, depending upon what factors are considered and who is doing the considering. The most recent estimate published by the United Nations puts the figure at around 9.1 billion in the year 2050. To make certain that my system will be able to accommodate everyone, I have organized it to produce over 31,000,000,000 different shapes, which is more than the highest population estimates might require. For the time being, a potential of around 214,000,000 shapes have been reserved within the system for creative experimentation. These can be used for many different purposes—not only for fine art and design projects, but also for various social practices: as gifts, awards, identity markers, emblems, insignias, logos, toys, souvenirs, educational tools, and so forth. I’m presently using my home computer to construct Adobe Illustrator ‘vector’* files that allow the shapes to be produced in many possible ways. The shapes can be printed graphically as silhouettes or outlines, in any size, color or texture, using all varieties of graphics software; or, the files can be used by rapid prototyping machines and computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) equipment—such as routers, laser and waterjet cutters—to build, carve, or cut the shapes from wood, plastic, metal, stone, and other materials. The basic system for making the shapes is now complete, but the project of actually constructing all of them is much too large for me to finish by myself, or in my own lifetime. For this reason I am organizing it in such a way that others may continue completing them in my absence. I am also making shapes available to others, with the hope that people will come up with many interesting ways to use them.“
*Note* Contrary to some errors made in certain press articles, McCollum’s Shapes are not “generated” in a computer with an invented or scripted “program.” Every shape is laboriously created by the artist using Adobe Illustrator — a common, everyday graphics program — by drawing little parts, cutting and pasting the parts into bigger parts, then cutting and pasting those parts into even bigger parts, and so on, and keeping track according to a written protocol, to insure against repetitions. The first exhibition of the project, in 2006, took around two years to complete.