QUESTIONS: Allan McCollum

The following questions can be used to spark conversation before, during, and after viewing the artist's film segment. They were compiled from our Educators' Guides and Screening Toolkits. We strongly encourage active viewing strategies that involve audiences in discussion in order to anticipate and set-up the ideas in the film, clarify content, or further the ideas while watching, and gives viewers the opportunity to process and re-consider their ideas after watching. Additional resources and strategies for teaching with films and working with contemporary art can be found in Teach.


"Shapes from Maine," 2009. Installation view at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, 2009. Photo by Lamay Photo. © Allan McCollum. Courtesy the artist.

Before Viewing
What is uniqueness? Discuss the question of whether a work of art is inherently unique. How might the consideration of prints or photographs influence this discussion?

Describe the tradition of heraldry. How do symbolic systems like heraldry categorize or represent groups of people? What are some contemporary symbols used to define or describe groups?


SEGMENT: Allan McCollum in "Systems"

While Viewing
Before McCollum creates a work, he asks himself whether it makes a good story. Take note of the different stories McCollum is trying to tell, and then compare notes with your classmates.

McCollum talks about how his work could be considered awe-inspiring or nightmarish because of its sheer magnitude. Pick a particular work in relation to these descriptors, and choose other words you would use to describe the work and the ideas it conveys.


"The Shapes Project," 2005/06. Framed laserprints on acid-free bond, 5 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches each, each unique. Installation view at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York. Photo by Lamay Photo. © Allan McCollum. Courtesy the artist.

After Viewing
Discuss the different ways in which McCollum uses the idea of what he calls "combinatorial elements" in his work, his working process, and his collaborations.

How is McCollum's collaboration with fabricators similar to and different from forms of collaboration used by other artists today and throughout history?

Allan McCollum recounts the ideas behind The Shapes Project. The artist explains, "I was thinking about symbols, and I was thinking, 'Well, okay, we typically create singular symbols so that we can all feel we belong.' Like, we look at the American flag, and we say, 'Oh, we're all Americans.' It occurred to me that if one used a certain kind of logic and really worked at it, one could come up with a system that would produce a shape for everybody on the planet."

How does McCollum create a system that produces symbols that are unique while still cultivating a sense of belonging?