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The Book of Shapes by Allan McCollum

Allan McCollum's The Book of Shapes is «The» book from the work The Shapes Project initiated by the artist in 2005.

This art work provides a system for producing shapes, each different, and each destined to be assigned to a single individual. In order to do so, McCollum drew a base of 6 groups of elements. The combinations made possible by this system are able to produce over 31 billion different shapes. Since the UN established that in 2050 the world population would peak at over 9.1 billion people, this system offers an ample supply of shapes allowing everyone to have their own «form-shape», whose use could be left to each and every one's discretion. The Book of Shapes, consisting of two volumes, makes The Shapes Project complete. Volume I contains the patterns, where we recognize the 6 groups of type-elements: the a and b elements are respectively the upper left and right part of the final shape, and the c and d elements are the lower left and right part, while a series of intermediate e and f elements multiply the number of possible variants. There are 144 a, b, c and d shapes and 12 different e and f shapes. As for Volume II, it includes the instructions and guides for creating all possible combinations of these components.

The Shapes Project, like any other of this artist's work, finds its method and inspiration in the analysis of mass production and proposes this paradox, characteristic of the artist: the wish to produce a work of art at a massive scale, thereby depriving its shape from its uniqueness, but ensuring at the same time that none of these objects, although created from the same mold, are similar and/or personalized due to their attribution.

The Shapes Project has therefore an eminently utopian dimension: to offer everyone a unique art work of equal value, allowing the individual to own one of the over 31 billion shapes and, perhaps, to set aside the frightening question of his own irremediable loss. The information contained in The Book of Shapes lets thus grasp the magnitude of this plan and allows the work to survive the demise of the artist himself.


2 volumes
21.6 cm x 27.9 cm each
Volume I: 616 pages, volume II: 360 pages
Limited edition of 70 numbered and signed sets of 2 volumes and 10 artist's proofs
Produced and published in 2010 by mfc-michèle didier, Brussels
Certificates signed and numbered by the artist
2010 Allan McCollum and mfc-michèle didier