Social Media Archeology and Poetics: Web Archive

Nancy Paterson:
Stock Market Skirt

image of a woman with a vacuum cleanerNancy Paterson was a Canadian electronic media artist, working primarily in the field of interaction design. A pioneer in interactive and Internet-based art, Paterson had been working on the Internet since 1982. In 2009, she received a PhD from York University.

Before she died in 2018, she was an Associate Professor at OCAD University in Toronto. Her research interests include Internet infrastructure visualization, network studies, and exploring the differences among how contextualized knowledge, information, data, and code are written in and through media.

In addition to Stock Market Skirt, profiled in her essay for Networked Projects in the Formative Years of the Internet, her early work included The Meadow, where, as visitors moved through an installation of video monitors, each showing different aspects of a meadow, viewer movement triggered changes of seasons and audios of voices; The Machine in the Garden, in which when the viewer pulled the slot machine arm, a custom-designed casino slot machine displayed scrolling video imagery; and Bicycle TV, where a 1950's bicycle, with a color monitor mounted in front, empowered an interactive rider-controlled video tour of the Canadian countryside.

Stock Market Skirt, (1990- ), the work Nancy Paterson discusses for Networked Projects, 1 consists of a velvet party dress displayed on a dressmaker's mannequin, installed beside computer monitors. On the monitors, continuously updated stock prices control movement of the skirt. In her words:

"PERL scripts (running under Linux) extract and analyze stock prices from online stock market quote pages on the internet. These values are sent to a program which determines whether to raise or lower the hemline via a stepper motor and a system of cables, weights and pulleys attached to the underside of the skirt. When the stock price rises, the hemline is raised; when the stock price falls, the hemline is lowered."

Nancy Paterson's work has been exhibited at SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, ISEA, the Wexner/King Centre/COSI, Columbus, Ohio, the Canada Pavilion at EXPO 92 in Seville Spain, the European Media Arts Festival in Osnabruck, Germany, and the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, among many other places. Upcoming solo exhibitions include The Future, Before at InterAccess in Toronto (March 7 to May 5, 2018). Recent book chapters include "Process and Outcome Paradigms in Media Arts Pedagogy" in Michael Filimowicz and Veronika Tzankova, eds., Teaching Computational Creativity, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

For more information about her work, as well as for the images used on this page, visit her website at

1. An earlier version of Nancy Paterson's essay was published in the web archive for Judy Malloy, ed., Women, Art & Technology, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2003.

Nancy Paterson: Stock Market Skirt

image of a woman with a skirt in which the hemline rises and falls In the early 1990's, I began working with laserdisc technology and custom-designed microcontrollers to develop interactive projects such as Bicycle TV, The Machine in the Garden, and The Meadow. As this technology became more commonplace in the mid 90's, my interest turned to Internet-based installations; the technology had evolved significantly since I first went online in 1982.

Stock Market Skirt, 1 a project which I began to work on in 1995, was actually conceived long before the technology was available to realize it. The concept of controlling the length of a woman's dress by referencing stock market quotes in real time could only be put into practice as the Internet evolved to supply data which I could access.

Originally, Stock Market Skirt was comprised of a BASIC program which used Toronto Stock Exchange historical data which had been donated to the project. With the transformation of the Internet from an academic resource to more mainstream entertainment and commercial applications, it was my expectation that it would only be a matter of time before online trading became accessible online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1995 when I began working on Stock Market Skirt, the only financial resources available online were expensive proprietary subscription services such as Reuters, Star Data and Bloomberg. By 1998 when Stock Market Skirt went public, I had my choice of sites which provided stock quotes, from markets across the globe.

Stefaan Van Ryssen, in a Leonardo Digital Review, points out that

"...this work of course refers to the theories of Desmond Morris and Helmut Gaus that women's clothing follows economic activity. In times of crisis and deflation, hemlines are lowered and colours disappear, in times of growth and at the height of a business cycle, skirts (and pants) are getting shorter and clothes more colourful. At the same time, the work comments on the presence of women as object and consumer in the 'real' world, while men are absent, hidden by technology and steering the economy rather than undergoing it." 2

Stock Market Skirt works on many levels, as a cyberfeminist fashion statement, and as the embodiment of the emerging intelligence of the Internet. Instantly, several messages are imprinted on the viewer's subconscious.

This project has the potential to be interactive with the global flow of information by responding to a dynamic feed of data. We are not merely voyeurs, watching the hemline quiver, rise and fall. A viewer might influence the mediawork by making a call to their broker, to buy (or sell) shares in whatever company the skirt is currently tracking. Or, this might be accomplished through online trading. If the stock or composite being tracked is bought/sold as a result of automatic trade execution, then Stock Market Skirt becomes interactive with the flow of data within the Internet itself rather than being interactive through the internet as a pipeline or conduit.

The completion of Stock Market Skirt allowed me to pursue another interest, with the development of a fully navigable, multi-storied 3D environment titled: The Library. 3 Whereas Stock Market Skirt required relatively low bandwidth, The Library was at the opposite end of the bandwidth spectrum. A common theme, however, was the re-purposing of online data; in The Library, for example, a constantly updated (every 5 minutes) satellite image of the earth's surface from space (NASA website) is retrieved and used as the texture map for a rotating sphere (world globe) which is the centrepiece in my 3D environment. Such applications hint at the promise of the Internet, for true interactivity and the symmetrical exchange of data.

Further expanding my artistic practice, I subsequently produced a short video for BRAVO! titled Coppelia. 4 Produced as Artist in Residence at the School for Communication Arts, Seneca@York, (Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto), this dance/robotics project utilizes ORAD virtual set technology. This was an opportunity for me to experiment with choreography and collaboration on the development of an audio sound track.

Another project developed in this era is MULTI: Multiple User Laser Table Interface, which continued to develop the 3D LIBRARY environment as content for a collaborative multi-user tool. Partners for this development were Dr. Wolfgang Stuerzlinger (Computer Science, York University) and Dr. Jennifer Jenson (Education, York University).

Nancy Paterson's Bicycle TV

Cyberfeminism gave rise to networked feminism, a development that paralleled the transition in my creative practice/research. The Internet based mediawork Stock Market Skirt led directly to creative visualization of Internet infrastructure in an early first generation flash project depicting Internet carrier-hotel (secure data center) interconnection points in North America. This early work was entitled CHmaps, now located at a hidden URL. The visualization attracted attention from potential collaborators including Dr Andrew Clement at the Faculty of Information University of Toronto, and the project transitioned to University of Toronto database servers and became re-titled IXmaps. After a period of time, it became more driven by research aims at the University of Toronto, and I became less involved. The database is still hosted there.



1. Nancy Paterson, Stock Market Skirt
2. Stefaan Van Ryssen, Review of "Mediaworks by Nancy Paterson. Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, Canada, 2001", Leonardo Digital Review, January 2003.
3. Nancy Paterson, The Library,, The rotunda of the Canadian Library of Parliament was the inspiration for this 3D environment.
4. Nancy Paterson, Coppelia

Networked Art Works: in the Formative Years of the Internet

Judy Malloy: Introduction

Early Telematic Projects

Nina Sobell: Work, 1977-1997

Interview with Tom Klinkowstein

Poietic Generator
Interview with Olivier Auber

Marcello Aitiani: Nave di Luce (Ship of Light)

Nancy Paterson: Stock Market Skirt

Projects Nurtured in Online Conferences

Fred Truck: Independent Work: 1985 to 1995

Robert Edgar: Memory Theatre One

Anna Couey and Judy Malloy:
The Arts Wire Interactive Art Conference


Review in retrospect:
Heidi Grundmann's Art Telecommunication

Review: Serge Guilbaut, Joni Low, and Pan Wendt:
Hank Bull: Connexion

Networked Art Works in the Formative Years
of the Internet is an
ongoing supplement to the MIT Press Book: Social Media Archeology and Poetics