Fifty Sisters 2012

As part of his Futurelab residency, Jon McCormack developed Fifty Sisters –  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 was 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.


artificial plant form by Jon mcCormack
artificial plant form by Jon mcCormack


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 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 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 “grow” imaginary plant species in the computer, being then subject to evolutionary processes of mutation and selection. Through a process akin to selective breeding, new and exotic species were evolved. The geometric 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.

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Artist in Residence:

Jon McCormack