[ISEA96] Poster: Patricia Search – Hickory Dickory Dock: The Clock Strikes One in Hyperspace

Poster Statement

Hickory Dickory Dock is an art installation that critiques the aesthetics of space and time in interactive computer programs. In particular, the artwork highlights the conceptual and aesthetic limitations of language and symbols in human-computer interaction. The artwork also comments on many of the myths and illusions surrounding interactive computing.

Keywords: hypermedia, human-computer interaction, temporal perception.


This paper discusses critical issues in the aesthetics of space and time in interactive computing. Hickory Dickory Dock is an art installation that highlights the conceptual and aesthetic limitations of language and symbols in human-computer interaction. The artwork also comments on many of the myths and illusions surrounding interactive electronic media. Interface designs in interactive programs emphasize the use of spatial references for navigation and orientation. However, little focus has been placed on the temporal dynamics of navigation in interactive computing. In fact, most interfaces use words and symbols that represent a Western perspective of time which is not always appropriate for the non-narrative structure of interactive programs. The installation Hickory Dickory Dock is a three-dimensional layout of the storyboard for an interactive computer artwork. Twenty-four screen designs from the storyboard are displayed back-to-back to create twelve viewing stations that are arranged in a formation resembling the mathematical symbol for infinity. The documentation that accompanies the exhibition consists of twenty-four cards mounted on a ring. The cards contain the author’s programming instructions for the storyboard. The screen designs and the documentation contain numerous linguistic and symbolic references to Western definitions of time. The installation demonstrates how computer interfaces use Western labels and categories to limit the interpretation of space and time to specific cultural perspectives. The three-dimensional layout of the storyboard plays an important role in delineating the limitations of symbols and language in the computer interface. The installation forces the viewer to revaluate the metaphors and interactive conventions (mouse, keyboard, touch screens) that have become an established part of interactive computing. The viewer must make the conceptual leap from abstract temporal references to concrete logic by translating the commands and symbols in the two-dimensional interface design into movements and actions in the three-dimensional environment. In the process, the viewer realizes that many of the symbols in computer interfaces are derived from the perception of three-dimensional space and therefore, do not map directly to the two-dimensional computer screen. These paradoxes are further emphasized by the use of Western classical music in the installation. The music, which is experienced through infrared headsets, is a constant reminder of the formal structure of time in Western cultures. Like the symbols and language in the storyboard, the music underscores the dichotomy between discrete mathematical references to time and the ethereal, contiguous representation of time that we experience in a three-dimensional space where events and actions, rather than numbers, define temporal relationships.

  • Patricia Search, USA, Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

Full text p.122-126