Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art

  • A chair at a control panel in front of a screen, in a pink room

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art

Organized by the Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Curated by Tina Rivers Ryan and Paul Vanouse


January 28 - April 29, 2023
Opening Reception: Sat., Jan. 28, 2:00 p.m.

Beall Center for Art + Technology

Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art addresses the complex relationship between the technologies we use and the identities we inhabit. The exhibition asks: 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? Dynamic and interactive, the gallery transforms into a laboratory for experimenting with our increasingly powerful “difference machines,” as we strive to invent a more equitable future.

The Beall Center for Art + Technology is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art, which will open on January 28 until April 29, 2023.

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.

“Since Difference Machines opened in Buffalo in the fall of 2021, the question of how technology shapes and reflects identity has become both more mainstream and more urgent,” explains Ryan. “We are grateful to our institutional partners for ensuring that more people will have the opportunity to experience these moving, thought-provoking artworks, and to imagine how we might work through the uses and abuses of technology towards a more equitable future.”
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’m interested in artists who recognize that technologies are social, active, and value-laden and not neutral tools, and who can leverage these qualities to take on larger questions and broader issues,” 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.”
A public opening reception will take place on Saturday, January 28, 2–5 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. For visitor protocols related to COVID-19 and up-to-date information, please visit the UCI Forward website at uci.edu/coronavirus. For inquiries or schedule a guided tour, please contact Associate Director Fatima Manalili at fatima.m@uci.edu or 949-824-2606.

Difference Machines is supported by The Beall Family Foundation.

Artists in the Exhibition:
Morehshin Allahyari
Zach Blas
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
A.M. Darke
Stephanie Dinkins
Hasan Elahi
Sean Fader
Rian Ciela Hammond
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Joiri Minaya
Mendi + Keith Obadike
Sondra Perry
Keith Piper
Saya Woolfalk
Lior Zalmanson

Image: Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT, 2020; Digital game displayed on projector; gaming chair; pink lights; and vinyl text. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Tina Rivers Ryan for Buffalo AKG Art Museum.




* Thursday, March 2 at 2 p.m., ALP 1300
Buffalo Professor Paul Vanousse and Buffalo AKG Art Museum Curator Tina Rivers Ryan will discuss their collaboration and expand on the themes presented in the exhibition.

Register for In-Person | Zoom Link

This is a hybrid event. Please visit Events page for updates.

This event is sponsored by UCI Illuminations.

* Thursday, March 16 at 6 p.m.
Join a guided tour of the exhibition with Buffalo AKG Art Museum Curator Tina Rivers Ryan.

Register Here


Free admission




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Saturday Jan 28, 2023, 12:00 pm to Saturday Apr 29, 2023, 6:00 pm
Thursday Mar 2, 2023, 2:00 pm
Thursday Mar 16, 2023, 6:00 pm
Saturday Apr 29, 2023, 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Reception Date: 
Saturday Jan 28, 2023, 2:00 pm