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Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at Albright-Knox Northland

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Buffalo, NY – Today the Albright-Knox announced its upcoming exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art, which will open on October 16, 2021, at Albright-Knox Northland, the museum’s temporary exhibition space during the AK360 Campus Development and Expansion project, and remain on view until January 16, 2022.

In response to ongoing conversations about systemic inequities, Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art presents 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.

The exhibition is co-curated by University at Buffalo Professor Paul Vanouse and Albright-Knox Assistant Curator Tina Rivers Ryan, who bring to the project over thirty years of experience working with media art, as well as their own personal experience of how technology can both help and harm marginalized communities.

“In light of the sudden explosion of interest in digital art, we hope this exhibition will help raise awareness of its longer history,” explains Ryan. “It feels particularly appropriate to be presenting it here in Buffalo, which is often cited as the birthplace of media art in America, given the community of avant-garde film and video artists who gathered here in the 1970s. Difference Machines also continues the Albright-Knox’s own history of supporting emerging practices, from our pioneering presentation of photography as a fine art in 1910 to our ground-breaking exhibitions of film and video installations in the 1970s and our acquisition of computer-generated works in the 2000s.”

While recent exhibitions around the world have surveyed the impact of technology on the arts or examined what it means to be human in the digital age, Difference Machines will be the first large-scale exhibition at a major museum to explore the connections between technology and systemic inequity, as manifested in problems like algorithmic bias and digital redlining.

“I have long felt that we need more exhibitions that examine the social consequences of technology,” Vanouse adds. “We especially wanted to emphasize that artists who work with technology can be critical of it—while simultaneously expanding our horizons of what technology, and art, can be.”

Artists in the Exhibition


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

Equipment and technical support provided in part by Advantage TI. 

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

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