Allan McCollum. An Ongoing Collection of Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles. 2015–ongoing. Screen captures from movies and TV shows on the Internet, present count: 1,200. Courtesy the artist

Allan McCollum’s Ongoing Collection of Reassurance

An artist collects images from film and TV that offer moments of support and comfort.

Allan McCollum’s installation Over Ten Thousand Individual Works (1987/1991) consists of rows of miniature objects, each hand-cast separately from commercially produced items, including bottle caps, paper weights, and kitchen tools, which he then hand-painted. When arranged together, they look alike, but each individual object is, in fact, slightly different. This kind of one-after-another pursuit has defined McCollum’s art since the 1970s. In works in which nearly identical objects proliferate, he examines art’s relationship to repetition and difference.

In 2015, the artist started An Ongoing Collection of Screen Grabs with Reassuring Subtitles, a series of screenshots taken from movies and television shows that feature characters offering emotional support. Watching on his laptop with the subtitles turned on, he took a picture each time a variation of certain pervasive phrases popped up on the screen: “You’re safe now,” “Don’t worry, it’s gonna be all right,” “It’s okay, it’s okay,” “We’re going to be fine,” “You have nothing to worry about,” and “You’re ok, all right?”

Our understanding of the world is inseparable from the stories that surround us as we live our lives.
Allan McCollum

The project was prompted by McCollum’s interest in Vladimir Propp’s The Morphology of the Folktale (1928), which focuses on the structural narrative of folktales, with their common “happy ending.” In a recent email exchange with McCollum, he remarked, “Our understanding of the world is inseparable from the stories that surround us as we live our lives.” Then he added, “I like this quote from Muriel Rukeyser: ‘The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.’” At this particular moment of global crisis, human stories are more resonant than ever, reminding us that if we can see ourselves as members of a community with a shared future, not as atomized actors, then “we’ll be ok.”

You can see all 1,200 images currently comprising the project at the artist’s website.