In the last of a four part post about repetition in art, 3 Quarks Daily links to Allan McCollum’s site, which has some interesting texts about his work. In one of his projects, for example, he is playing with the idea of generating 31 billion shapes- as many distinctive shapes as the world population’s expected peak in 2050. Some of the ones that he’s created are displayed in different ways; as laminated wood plywood objects, as black on white digital “monoprints” and in production ledgers contained in ring binders. He also envisions these shapes being produced as “gifts, awards, identity markers, emblems, insignia, logos, toys, souvenirs, education tools and so forth.”
In a piece published in Art in America in 2007 Nancy Princenthal writes;
But the Shapes Project is closest, visually at least, to McCollum’s Drawings (1989-93). For these pencil-on-paper images McCollum designed five curves, a set of matrices, and a numerical system to prevent duplication, and then produced every possible combination. “It was about the desire to produce social stability through identification, hence the reference to heraldry,”2 he said to Thomas Lawson about these drawings, citing a sign system (medieval heraldry) that is clearly relevant to the Shapes Project as well, as are the highly formalized social protocols to which the courtly imagery belongs.
McCollum’s work presents a wealth of conceptual treats that tend to conceal surprising nuggets of melancholy. Writing about the cast-plaster Surrogate Paintings in these pages in 1983, Craig Owens discussed the work as a critique of consumerism, quoting Baudrillard to the effect that in the marketplace of the 20th century, “difference itself becomes apparent: to carefully engineer and control the production of difference in our society.” It was a description thoroughly consistent with McCollum’s motivation at the time. But Owens began and ended in a different register, quoting Deleuze first on repetition as a means to “make a sport of death,” and then on seriality as “liberating the forces needed to destroy this world.”3 Several years later McCollum told Lynne Cooke, “It is probably evident in my work that I suffer some preoccupation with absence, and with death.”4 And soon after, in 1992, he told Thomas Lawson, “To the degree to which we’re enmeshed in relationships with our own copies in the world, we are constantly in a state of banishment from the imaginary ‘source’ of things. . . . So copies are always about something that’s absent, and in that way they carry a sense of mourning, death, or loss.”