To each, according to his shape

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?

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7 Responses to To each, according to his shape

  1. Artswebshow says:

    crazy but cool project

  2. I’ll be honest and say it doesn’t do a thing for me. Back to the 19th C again.

    Why does this remind me of the Bertillon System?

    • lichanos says:

      Bertillon? I can see why you feel a similarity. Classification of varying shapes or shape-based appearance assessments.

      I looked Mr. B. up in wiki, and it turns out he was famously involved in the Dreyfus case, for the prosecution. He testified on handwriting, about which, the article says, he had no special knowledge.

      Regardless, he was clearly on to something with his system. Actually, this is related to a very large issue that fascinates me endlessly, i.e., the processing and classification of visual data by humans. Think of how difficult life was for botanists and other scientists before photographhy, before engraving, before woodcuts… How to accurately describe appearance…objectively? Ivins deals with this at length in one of my all-time favorite books: Prints as Visual Communication.

  3. There’s a book called The Crimes of Paris which I think you would like. Bertillon took crime detection a long way but then he froze it w/his refusal to adopt fingerprints. I don’t think he ever lived down the Dreyfus mess.

    As to the other stuff: perhaps that’s why people like Darwin were also not shabby when it came to artistic skills.

  4. Ducky's here says:

    Brings to mind Arp, but the shapes don’t seem to have any of the intense organic quality of Arp.

  5. Guy Savage says:

    Another coincidence…I am reading a bio and just came across a mention of Professor Lacassagne and the charts of “ninety different shapes of the human ear.”

    • lichanos says:

      And sort of along these lines, I recently purchased an uncolored version of this print by James Gillray: see this post.

      It was a direct parody of Lavater that the greatest London caricaturist, James Gillray designed his plate Dublures of Characters in 1798, alluding to the allegedly sinister revolutionary motives of the radical politician Charles James Fox and his friends in the Whig party by depicting them with their grotesque doubles, the ‘Arch Fiend’, Judas, or the drunken Silenus.

      fr. Web Gallery of Art

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