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Albright-Knox Northland exhibition questions technology's influence on the modern world

"Difference Machines" at Albright-Knox Northland
Brenda Bieger for Albright-Knox Art Gallery
/
Albright Knox.org
The exhibition "Difference Machines" runs through January 16 at Albright-Knox Northland

The current exhibition at Albright-Knox Northland "Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art" delivers a strong critique on the troubling trends related to our current digital reality. Comprised of the works of 17 international artists, the exhibition offers subtle and not-so-subtle messages on the many ways we interact with technology.

“I try to encourage people to enjoy that depth. Don’t be afraid of it," laughs co-curator Paul Vanouse.

"Realize it’s the kind of show where you might just come and see three or four works in the course of a day then come back and see others later.”

Vanouse and co-curator Tina Rivers Ryan provided background during an afternoon tour of Albright-Knox Northland. With 10,000 square feet of industrial space at their disposal, they've created a show that gives each work ample space. The distance works well aesthetically and for a public setting as the world deals with the Omicron variant.

“So this exhibition is trying to make sure that we are aware of what’s happening (with technology) and to show through art how we can have a conversation about this and how we can gain some control back," Ryan said.

"At least, not to be vulnerable victims, but to have an agency in relationship to these things."

Some of the installations are interactive, including Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's "Level of Confidence." Using facial recognition technology, a visitor's features are compared to the photos from a group of students and teachers that went missing in Mexico, never to be found. The results are often surprising.

"When I think of this work ‘Level of Confidence,’ it’s really asking us the question ‘How confident are we really?’ And how these technologies are being created and being utilized," Ryan commented.

"Rafael, actually, has said that he thinks facial recognition systems should be illegal except for artists.”

Each artist offers their own perspective on technology's impact. The installation "She Falls for Ages" uses technology to update identity.

"In this case, (the artist) Skawennati uses the virtual environment of Second Life as an animation platform," Vanouse explained.

"And what she does in Second Life is basically act out these science fiction narratives. And the science fiction narratives are Native American stories.”

While the artists and their installations are at the center of the exhibition, the space, Albright-Knox Northland, is an attraction of its own. The high ceilings and remnants of its industrial past add to the visitor experience.

Paul Vanouse said "I was rubbing my hands together with excitement" when they began forming the exhibition. The challenge was to keep the installations from being swallowed by the massive, open space.

"This is an amazing space," Tina Rivers Ryan says. "There were a lot of opportunities. For example, the work by Hasan Elahi. It’s 26 feet tall. It is not a work that’s often shown because there’s very few museum spaces that can accommodate a work that is 26 feet tall."

Could this exhibition have succeeded in another place, like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery before it started its renovation on Elmwood Avenue?

"Every exhibition no matter where or when it is, if it’s done right, in some sense, it couldn’t have been done anywhere else," Ryan said.

"It really will be something that responds to the architectural envelope that responds to the history and the vision of the institution that responds to the community of the city in which it’s located.”