The genetic art project was based on the International Genetic Art II site (by John Mount, Scott Neal Reilly and Michael Witbrock) which ran from 1994 through 1996. This site, in turn, was inspired by the work of Scott Neal Reilly which itself drew inspiration from Karl Sims.

In the early 90’s Karl Sims presented a number of art installations based on at least three interesting ideas:

  • Transforming images
  • Evolving combinations of transforms
  • Direct participation

(see: Karl Sims. Artificial Evolution for Computer Graphics. Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 1991 and Karl Sims’ homepage).

The part that caught a number of people’s imaginations was the evolution aspect. Karl Sims defined a method of combining transformations of original source images. He then allowed people to manipulate his art installations and “vote” on art they liked best. The more popular pieces were combined (or bred) to create newer works that then put up against criticism. After many breedings (or generations) the combinations of transforms were quite complicated and a number of unexpected images were created.

The International Genetic Art II site was a very early example of CGI scripts and HTML forms (which at the time were the only methods available to produce interactive web pages). The central site allowed a consistent view (different users saw the same picture) and primitive collaboration (every user voted and votes affected everybody). Some of the best pictures were photo-reproduced and displayed in The Coffee Tree cafe in Pittsburgh PA.

The images displayed here come from a later version of the Genetic Art software that was written in Java and ran directly in the user’s browser. This allowed a much more reactive user interface and removed the need for a central site. However, without a central site or protocol the system did not allow collaboration or learning.

Here’s an article from the Win Vector blog about the history of this project and the principles behind the “breeding rules.” Most of the interesting patterns come from the properties of an interesting number system called the “Quaternions.”

The Java version of the Genetic Art Project isn’t online anymore, but the current code for it can be found on Github. Here’s a video of the code in action:

I also experimented with “genetic movies.” Though, at the time they were too computationally expensive to allow direct voting on movies.

Back to the Genetic Art Gallery