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Installation view of Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art

Saturday, October 16, 2021
Sunday, January 16, 2022

Albright-Knox Northland
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 reserve your visit date and time prior to your arrival.

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art addresses the complex relationship between the technologies we use and the identities we inhabit. The exhibition presents the work of seventeen contemporary artists who ask some of the most urgent questions we face today: How is technology changing the way we see ourselves, and each other? In what ways does it contribute to—or allow us to resist—prejudice and systemic forms of oppression? What role should it have in our lives and in our communities?

When the Web first emerged in the 1990s, many people imagined that it would allow us to escape our bodies. Some celebrated the idea that attributes like our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and dis/ability would become irrelevant. Instead, the opposite became true: our offline and online selves have fused. We upload our identities when we put our real names in our Facebook profiles, post selfies to Instagram, or use hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #TransDayofVisibility to advocate for our communities.

While the internet allows us to express ourselves and connect with each other, there is also a darker side to digital technologies. Some governments and corporations are creating databases that surveil and monetize our identities, as well as biased algorithms that perpetuate discrimination in everything from education and healthcare to employment and the justice system. The forerunner of the computer was called a “difference engine,” as it was used to calculate the differences between numbers. Today, we are surrounded by “difference machines,” or computers that are used to encode the differences between us.

Installation view of Saya Woolfalk’s Landscape of Anticipation 2.0, 2021, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Rian Ciela Hammond’s Root Picker, 2021, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT, 2020, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of A.M. Darke’s 'Ye or Nay?, 2020, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Sondra Perry’s IT'S IN THE GAME '18 or Mirror Gag for Projection and Two Universal Shot Trainers with Nasal Cavity and Pelvis, 2018, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of works by Morehshin Allahyari in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Joiri Minaya’s #dominicanwomengooglesearch, 2016, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Hasan Elahi’s Thousand Little Brothers, 2014, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Lior Zalmanson’s Excess Ability, 2014, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

Installation view of Zach Blas’s Facial Weaponization Suite, 2012–14, in the special exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland. Photo: Brenda Bieger.

The artists in this exhibition explore our newly digitized identities by creatively adapting both familiar and emerging technologies. Their projects span the last three decades and range from software-based and internet art to animated videos, bioart experiments, online games, and 3-D printed sculptures. Many examine how digital systems contribute to the exclusion, erasure, and exploitation of marginalized people. Others emphasize how digital tools can be repurposed to tell more inclusive stories or imagine new ways of being. Dynamic and interactive, these projects transform the space of the museum into a laboratory for experimenting with our increasingly powerful “difference machines,” as we strive to invent a more equitable future.

This exhibition is organized by University at Buffalo Professor Paul Vanouse and Albright-Knox Assistant Curator Tina Rivers Ryan.

ASL interpretation for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing is available upon request. To schedule an ASL interpreter for a virtual event, please contact Access & Community Programs Coordinator Karen Duval at 716.270.8249 or kduval@albrightknox.org at least two weeks in advance.

Admission to Albright-Knox Northland is always Pay What You Wish.

  • Exhibition Guides & Further Resources

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Exhibition Sponsors

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art is made possible through the generosity of Aleron Group, Mr. Charles E. Balbach, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Banta.

Equipment and technical support provided by Advantage Technology Integration.

The Albright-Knox’s exhibition program is generously supported by The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, Inc.

Albright-Knox Northland Sponsor

Albright-Knox Northland is supported by M&T Bank.

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