Fifty Sisters on show at Hargrave-Andrew Library

John McCormack Fifty Sisters

Professor Jon McCormack created Fifty Sisters, a series of 50 evolved digital plant images, algorhithmically grown in computer code

Monash Library presents Fifty Sisters, a new digital exhibition at the Hargrave-Andrew Library at the Clayton campus.

Fifty Sisters comprises 50 evolved digital plant images, algorithmically “grown” in computer code written by Professor Jon McCormack, an electronic media artist, theorist and computer science researcher in the Faculty of IT.

Professor David Green, Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty, opened the exhibition and introduced the artist and researcher as one of the lead academics behind Monash’s highly successful Creative Coding MOOC.

Fifty Sisters was originally commissioned for the Ars Electronica museum in Linz, Austria, one of the world’s leading museums for art and technology.

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.

Professor McCormack used digital genes -- the computer equivalent of DNA -- to grow imaginary plant species in the computer. The plants replicate the structure and form of Mesozoic plants and their modern descendants. Fossil fuels began as plants that geological processes transformed over millions of years into the coal and oil that powers modern civilisation.

He said his work had its technical origins in the library where he spent a lot of time reading biology books. He was a Science Honours student at Monash.

“I was absorbed in the book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. It was an incredible piece of research when it was first published.”

In Fifty Sisters, new and exotic species were evolved through a process similar to selective breeding. The geometric elements of the digital organisms were derived from abstractions of oil company logos, which often subtly reference plants and the environment.

“This work reminds us that the current dominance of oil commerce originated from plants. What once took evolutionary time scales of millions of years is now being rapidly consumed.

“Oil has shaped our civilisation and 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.”

Fifty Sisters is the third digital exhibition displayed at Hargrave-Andrew Library since 2014. It will be on show until mid-September 2015.

For more information about Professor McCormack’s work visit his website.