Shapes Project: Allan McCollum 

The Shapes Project by the artist Allan McCollum, is an exciting example of one of the most obvious capabilities of vectorial drawing: creating modular elements which can be combined in an endless number of variations. In the companion website for his recent exhibition at the Friedrich Petzel Gallery, McCollum explains in detail his project, with descriptive images.

Using three kinds of vector modules, the artist has devised a system to generate billions of different shapes. Initially he used 144 "head" elements and 144 "feet" and it was possible to combine them in 429,981,696 unique shapes (grouping the modules in 4-part shapes). Adding 12 "necks" and combining the pieces in 6-part groups, the number of combinations rises to 61,917,364,224. And so on: the project takes shape, not only digitally, but also materially. The program used is Illustrator, and starting with the basic vector elements monoprints and other printouts have been produced. So have been wood, metal, plastic and stone sculptures using computer-controled machinery. The key difference between this project and other similar generative-art experiences is this production of art items, objects that can be sold by the art dealer, beyond the mere virtual existence in the computer.

However, this isn't a generative art project, since McCollum has created his Shapes one by one using Illustrator, drawing manually each piece, cutting, pasting and combining them. The artist keeps a detailed, scientific-like protocol to avoid repetition in the shapes he creates. According to the artist, the first project exhibition, in 2006, took over two years of production and preparation.

(Seen and commented in Design Observer.)