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Luddites and Nostalgia

B.C. Before Computers exhibition at NERAM

Can you remember the first time you used the internet? Your first email address? The first time you logged into an internet dating site?

New England Regional Art Museum curators, Christine Durham and Benjamin Thorn have pulled together a show called, B.C. Before Computers, that urges us to remember what has been lost (and gained) in the name of computer technology.

Almost all the paintings are taken from the gallery’s Hinton Collection and are dated between 1900 and 1945. The exhibition explores this world without computers and the ways that people dealt with logistical challenges (they used maps, you know, instead of GPS) and human relationships (people met socially in the pre-online Tinder world). This message is playfully conveyed with the artwork annotated by short slogans, for example where there are scenes of romance depicted, the comment “No e-Harmony” appears above the painting.

Bringing an interactive component to the exhibition, the curators have included a collection of pre-computer artefacts. Sourced from the Armidale Folk Museum and the Museum of Printing at NERAM, the series includes a red telephone box, a manual switchboard, various mechanical calculators, a typewriter and chess set, and are displayed with instruction manuals so that visitors can handle these near-extinct objects.