Odell’s Neo-Surreal presents a series of found advertisements from Byte magazine, a computer hobbyist journal published from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. The images in Neo-Surreal combine people and computers in startling and unexpected cyborg forms. These strange advertisements expose the commercial engine which transformed the way people thought about the mind after World War II. In the early 20th century, popular psychology relied overwhelmingly on Freudian ideas of internal conflict and repression, sex drive and death instinct. During World War II, scientists working on anti-aircraft systems departed from the Freudian approach to the human mind. These scientists began instead to model humans as information-processing machines. In this computational metaphor, the mind became a program running on the brain’s hardware. In the 1970s, the availability of personal computing helped spread the computational metaphor for the human mind. And as computing spread, the metaphor of mind as machine came to supplement and displace the older Freudian ideas in popular culture.
In another piece in the Internet Archive artist-in-residency exhibition, called Browser History, Jenkins shows a series of clay tablets impressed with web pages representing “trade, lifestyle, art, government, and other aspects of our society that are similar to the kinds of information that we have about ancient civilizations.” Where Odell’s images from Byte depict the present by way of the recent past, Jenkins’ clay tablets look at contemporary culture and society from a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Clay tablets covered in cuneiform script are some of the earliest known records of civilization; the oldest such tablets date back to around 3000 BC. After the exhibition, the tablets in Browser History will be scattered across California: hidden in caves, buried underground, and submerged underwater. Jenkins speculates that these tablets could last for as many as 40,000 years. Clay tablets are the most primitive of recording technologies. They are low-tech and low-res, the antithesis of the colossal data centers which host the Internet Archive. To create such a time capsule is to imagine the possibility of its necessity. To view it is to inhabit a time in which the clay tablets are not simply a record of the year 2017 AD, but the only surviving record. Browser History draws viewers imperceptibly into the far future and invites them to look back 40,000 years and decipher our contemporary culture through the Internet.