Campus News

Bias encoded in tech explored in Albright-Knox exhibit co-curated by Vanouse

four video stills of artist Stephanie Dinkins interacting with a humanoid robot called Bina48.

Stephanie Dinkins (American, born 1964). Conversations with Bina48: Fragments 7, 6, 5, 2, 2014-ongoing. Four digital videos (color, sound) displayed on monitors. Courtesy of the artist and TRANSFER.


Published October 14, 2021

Paul Vanouse.
“Against the backdrop of increasingly urgent conversations about systemic inequities, these artists foreground that difference is not essential, but rather a social construct produced by all of our systems, including our technologies. ”
Paul Vanouse, professor of art and director
UB Coalesce Center for Biological Art

A new exhibition coming to the Albright-Knox Northland explores the intersection of technology and identity, including the digital tools that encode the differences between us and the biases within us.

Titled “Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art,” the exhibition is co-curated by Paul Vanouse, professor of art, College of Arts and Sciences, and Tina Rivers Ryan, assistant curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The exhibition brings together net artists of the 1990s with younger digital artists to feature 17 projects that creatively reimagine the everyday technologies that shape our lives. The projects range from digital tools repurposed to tell more inclusive stories to work that reveals the traps within digital systems that lead to the exclusion, surveillance and exploitation of marginalized communities.

The artworks aim to shed light on how technology is shaped by the biases of its creators, and how prejudices and inequities are often replicated or exacerbated by databases, algorithms, artificial intelligence and facial recognition software. Biased programs, for example, may discriminate against applicants with disabilities in job interviews, suggest harsher prison sentences for Latinx defendants, or deny medical care to Black patients, says Vanouse.

“Difference Machines” opens Oct. 16 at the Albright-Knox Northland, 612 Northland Ave., Buffalo. The exhibit, free with pay-what-you-wish admission, runs through Jan. 16.

Opening day will include group tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. led by the curators, family-friendly art activities, and a visit from the Albright-Knox Art Truck — a mobile center for hands-on art-making — from noon to 2 p.m.

“While a number of major museum exhibitions have surveyed the intersection of art and technology, ‘Difference Machines’ will be one of the first to focus on the intersection of technology and identity as seen through the perspectives of diverse artists,” says Vanouse, who also serves as director of the UB Coalesce Center for Biological Art.

“Against the backdrop of increasingly urgent conversations about systemic inequities, these artists foreground that difference is not essential, but rather a social construct produced by all of our systems, including our technologies.”

The projects use a range of mediums, including animated videos, 3D-printed sculptures, digital games, bio-art experiments, interactive websites and printed photographs. The exhibition is accompanied by a resource-rich website featuring video interviews conducted with the artists.

Paul Vanouse (left) and Tina Rivers Ryan.

UB faculty member Paul Vanouse and Tina Rivers Ryan, Albright-Knox assistant curator. The two are co-curating "Difference Machines." Photo: Jeff Mace for Albright-Knox Art Gallery

“‘Difference Machines’ will marry our commitment to experimental art with our ambition to support artists who address social injustices, setting an important precedent for our future — and the future of contemporary art,” says Ryan. “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 inventing a more equitable future.”

The exhibition will help the Albright-Knox expand its dialogue with local audiences as well through programming that explores the show’s relevance to a broad range of lived experiences, says Ryan.

The Albright-Knox will organize art classes for teens that experiment with digital self-portraiture and host a public online screening of the 2020 documentary “Coded Bias.” Many of the exhibition tours will be led by community activists from their own perspectives, and two artists from the show will deliver talks at UB.

To learn more about “Difference Machines,” visit the Albright-Knox website.