I took a bike ride along the Delaware-Raritan Canal near Princeton yesterday, and after lunch, I made a brief visit to the art museum on the university campus. There, I saw an exhibit of shapes from the Shape Project of Allan McCollum. His objective is to have a unique shape for every human being on the planet. He does not produce them with a computer algorithm: he assembles them individually from a ‘catalogue’ of elements that he has created and indexed, using Adobe software, and then he prints them, or gives them to others to make sculpture, decorations, or whatever they like. Obviously, he cannot create even the few billion shapes that are needed right now: he just started the process, created a tool to index them so that no shape is repeated, and got the ball rolling.
If you visit this site and do the math – 144 top parts, 12 middle, or neck parts, 144 bottom parts – you will see that 61,917,364,224 unique shapes are possible. The idea that everyone could have an ID# number is easy to grasp, even though we recoil at the thought, but the notion of a shape for each of us seems somehow humane, sort of cool. I like to think that in the future, when this crazy project is fully realized, parents will give their children shapes using some of the parts in their shapes, so the forms will be passed on down through the generations, changing with the genetic lineages of their family. Will certain nations and regions have distinct tendencies in shape selection, leading to regional variation and cultural identification? Doesn’t that happen now? Isn’t that what we call culture?