Skip to Main Content

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art

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

Albright-Knox Northland

Oppression is systemic—that is, built into the fabric of our society. Even our technologies are not neutral: as many scholars and activists have shown, they are shaped by the biases and agendas of their creators. New digital tools (including facial recognition systems, search algorithms, and databases) created by corporations and governments reflect prejudices based on our collective identities. These tools are then used in ways that contribute to existing inequalities. For example, biased programs may discriminate against disabled people in job interviewssuggest harsher sentences for Hispanic defendants, and deny medical care to Black patients. The earliest computers were called “difference engines,” as they were used to calculate the differences between numbers. Today, computers are machines used to encode the differences between us.

In response to ongoing conversations about systemic inequities, Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art brings together a diverse group of seventeen artists and collectives who creatively reimagine the digital tools that shape our lives. The exhibition includes projects that span the last three decades, ranging from software-based and internet art to animated videos, bioart experiments, digital games, and 3-D printed sculptures.

Together, these works explore the aesthetic and social potential of emerging technologies. Some emphasize how digital tools can be repurposed to tell more inclusive stories or imagine new ways of being. Others show how becoming visible within digital systems can be a trap that leads to the technological exclusion, surveillance, and exploitation of marginalized communities. Dynamic and interactive, these projects transform the space of the museum into a laboratory for reflecting on and experimenting with our increasingly powerful “difference machines,” in the hopes of achieving a more equitable future.

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 at least two weeks in advance.

Installation with online game for one player, gaming chair, two pink fluorescent lights, and two hanging vinyls.

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley (British, born 1995). WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT, 2020. Installation with online game for one player, gaming chair, two pink fluorescent lights, and two hanging vinyls. Installation at Science Gallery, London, England, 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Felix Wilson.

Sondra Perry (American, born 1986). IT’S IN THE GAME ‘17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection (Installation), 2017. Digital video projection in a room painted Rosco Chroma Key Blue, color, sound (looped); screen: 69 × 120 inches. Running time: 16 minutes, 20 seconds. Commissioned by the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo (HOK) and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), University of Pennsylvania for the exhibition Myths of the Marble. Courtesy of the artist and Bridget Donahue, NYC. Video still courtesy of Bridget Donahue and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

Morehshin Allahyari (Iranian-Kurdish, born 1985). South Ivan Human Heads: Young Boy, 2017. 3-D printed sculpture with embedded portable data-storage device. Courtesy of the artist.

Digital prints on Sintra with tropical-print fabric backing, suspended from ceiling.

Joiri Minaya (Dominican-American, born 1990). #dominicanwomengooglesearch, 2016. Digital prints on Sintra with tropical-print fabric backing, suspended from ceiling. Installation at William Paterson University, New Jersey, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexican-Canadian, 1957). Level of Confidence, 2015. Face-recognition algorithms, computer, screen, and webcam. Installation at Montréal, Québec, Canada. Courtesy Antimodular Research. Photo: Antimodular Research.

Stephanie Dinkins (American, born 1964). Conversations with Bina48: Fragments 7, 6, 5, 2, 2014–ongoing. Four-channel video installation. Courtesy of the artist and TRANSFER. Video still courtesy of TRANSFER.

Zach Blas (American, born 1981). Facial Weaponization Suite, 2012–14. 3-D printed masks, chromogenic prints, and digital video file. Installation at Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico, 2014–15. Courtesy of the artist.

Skawennati (Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), born Canada). Becoming Sky Woman, 2016. Production still from the machinima video She Falls for Ages, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.


Hasan Elahi (American, born 1972). Thousand Little Brothers, 2014. Pigment print on canvas. Installation at Open Society Foundations, New York, 2014–15. Courtesy of the artist.

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

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.

Back to Top