Still Image Award

Fifty Sisters

Jon McCormack


Evolved plant images based on oil company logos.
Commission for the Ars Electronica Museum, Linz, Austria.

Fifty Sisters is comprised of fifty 1m x 1m images of computer synthesised plant-forms, algorithmically “grown” from computer code using artificial evolution and generative grammars. Each plant-like form is derived from the primitive graphic elements of oil company logos. The title of the work refers to the original “Seven Sisters” – a cartel of seven oil companies that dominated the global petrochemical industry and Middle East oil production from the mid-1940s until the oil crisis of the 1970s. Oil has shaped our civilisation and driven its unprecedented growth over the last century. We have been seduced by oil and its bi-products as they are now used across almost every aspect of human endeavour, providing fuels, fertilisers, feedstocks, plastics, medicines and more. But oil has also changed the environment, evident from the petrochemical haze that hangs over many a modern metropolis, the environmental damage of major oil spills, and the looming spectre of global climate change. With worldwide demand for oil now at 93 million barrels per day, humanity’s appetite for oil is unrelenting. Oil companies regularly report many of the all-time largest annual earnings in corporate history.

Fossil fuels began as plants that over millions of years were transformed by geological processes into the coal and oil that powers modern civilisation. To create this generative artwork, a variety of “digital genes” (a computer equivalent of DNA) were crafted to replicate the structure and form of Mesozoic plants and their modern descendants. These digital genes were used to breed imaginary plant species in the computer, being subject to evolutionary processes of mutation and crossover. Through evolution, new and exotic species emerged beyond the imagination of the designer. The structural elements of these digital organisms were derived from the geometric abstractions of oil company logos, which often subtly reference plants and the environment. In the final images, some of the original elements remain quite obvious, others are so strangely distorted or changed by evolution, that they are only subliminally recognisable, if at all.

This entry shows only a small sample of the 50 images that constitute the entire work.