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Nancy Paterson: Stock Market Skirt

This dress hemline moves according to stock market prices.

Stock Market Skirt consists of an array of freestanding computer screens surrounding a blue taffeta and black velvet party dress mounted on a dressmaker’s dummy. As live stock market data register visually on the screens, computer programming created by the artist affects the dress’s hemline height. When the sticker price rises, the hemline is raised; when the sticker price falls, the hemline is lowered.

Stock Market Skirt is transformed in this current installation by Google’s stock price. A custom-designed controller receives the online data and sends positive or negative pulses to a stepper motor mounted up and under the skirt. A complex system of cables, loops and weights sewn to the interior of the skirt ensure that the hemline length changes smoothly. When the New York Stock exchange is closed, Stock Market Skirt runs on market data saved form earlier that same day.

This piece has become a signature work for this Canadian artist and a historically important of digital art. It has been described as ‘cyberfeminist fashion statement.’ First conceived in the mid-1990s, Stock Market Skirt was a response to the convergence of technology, fashion, and feminism. When this work was first undertaken, online stock quotes were available only to brokers by subscription through expensive services such as Bloomberg and Reuter. Now this information is available to most anyone.

While several artists around the world are creating kinetic sculpture set in motion by external data available on the internet, Paterson’s Stock Market Skirt was the first to do so. It is also surely the only one to, as Randy Lee Cutler has written “make manifest the libidinal economy of technology, money, and gender…” 

Stock Market Skirt was acquired for Surrey Art Gallery’s permanent collection in 2012. As a gift from the artist and certified as a Cultural Property of Canada, it is considered a national treasure.

Read more about Stock Market Skirt in our Open Book publication.

About the Artist

Nancy Patterson is part of a generation of Canadian New media artists (David Rokeby, Luc Courchesne, Nell Tenhaaf, and Diana Burgoyne) who created innovative digital art projects in the 1980s, 1990s and into the present. Patterson’s work was featured in Surrey Art Gallery’s solo exhibition Mediaworks: Nancy Paterson (2001). Patterson taught at Ontario College of Art and Design for many years.

Image credit: Nancy Paterson, Stock Market Skirt (1998), mixed media installation, gift of the artist. Photo by Scott Massey.