Over the past 50 years, Allan McCollum has explored how objects achieve public and personal meaning in a world caught up in the contradictions we make between unique handmade artworks and objects of mass production. His practice examines the art object’s relationship to uniqueness, context and value.
Many of McCollum's projects in the past involved “traces” of things from the past. For this exhibition, the artist brings together three bodies of work: The Writer's Daughter, The Shapes Buttons from Oregon, and a video installation entitled A Symphony for the Hearing Impaired. These works continue his search for meaning in things that have faded away in the past.
“A few years ago, I became hypnotized looking at a page on which a highly intelligent two-year-old named Minu Mansoor-McKee, the daughter of a writer friend and art historian Jaleh Mansoor, had attempted to write letters and words before she fully understood the concept of language and the way it can be written. As with all of us, Minu’s attempt to record meaning on paper took time and effort.
Jaleh let me have a page of Minu’s attempts at writing. I have spent years looking at it. Each one of her 108 different attempts to construct little shapes of letters became symbols for me. Without fully understanding what led me to do it, I started scanning the shapes, enlarging and tracing them onto papers with ink, and framing each one. Framing things invites greater meaning to be discovered in what finds itself inside the frame, and the meaning will evolve more over time."
In 2005, McCollum designed The Shapes Project, a system to produce a completely unique shape for every person on the planet, without repeating. The Shapes Buttons from Oregon were conceptualized in 2015, as part of his ongoing Shapes project, collaborating with Bend, Oregon-based artist and button maker Delia Paine. Throughout this process, McCollum sent Paine the templates for the buttons, which she made, using colored backgrounds for each separate button.
The project was inspired by the “Independence Rock” historical site on the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, where thousands of pioneer travelers to the Western frontier added their signatures, traces of which can still be seen today. Over 5,000 each-unique buttons in McCollum's work reference the over 5,000 names inscribed by emigrants on the rock in the 1800s.
A Symphony for the Hearing Impaired is a video installation composed of a slideshow of over 1,000 screen grabs from movies and television shows, wherein the closed captions describe music, or traces of sounds that may never be heard again. True to McCollum form, every one of these subtitles is unique. View excerpt below.