System art and certainty

In her post at Design Observer, "Illusion of Certainty," Jessica Helfand describes the work of the artist Allan McCollum, who has developed a system for creating two dimensional shapes, each of which is unique. To date over 31 billion such shapes have been identified and McCollum has plans to make enough so that all of the estimated 9.1 billion people on the planet in the year 2050 can have their own.

Helfand: what is it about systems that we love to hate - and hate to love?

... McCollum's epic endeavor [is not so much about] the shapes themselves as the idea of the shapes, the very notion of a system of forms that's so captivating. And so unnerving. If I were to identify the one prevailing topical interest that has most surfaced in the last year — among students, in juries, at conferences and exhibitions — it would have to be this obsession with series and systems. How to identify them; how and where to introduce them; the question of whether, once a series is identified, your work is done. It's the illusion of certainty that's so mesmerizing — the idea that not everything is in flux, unfixed and mashed-up and dislocated. Systems by their very nature introduce an armature as well as a roadmap for their own completion. You look at one iteration, then two — then ten — and you get it. Once demystified, you can concentrate on other things — form, perhaps, or beauty. A glorious insect. A Trollope poem. Your lunch.

She also links to McCollum's own description of "The Shapes Project" if you're interested in learning more.


Wikipedia: systems theory