"The Recognition Machine" by Antje Van Wichelen (with Michael Murtaugh) acquired by Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

We are delighted to share the news that The Recognition Machine (TRM)—a work by Moussem artist Antje Van Wichelen in collaboration with Michael Murtaugh—has been purchased by Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne.

TRM takes the shape of a photo booth, albeit with a unique spin. Viewers can have their photograph taken, but through the use of publicly available facial recognition algorithms and classification models, their image will be emotionally matched to a portrait that Van Wichelen re-made from photographs from 19th century colonial photography collections. The photographs themselves are often “troubled”, depicting colonized persons, made without the subject’s consent, and in the service of a colonial perspective that aimed to utilize the then-new technology of photography as a medium to lend a quasi-scientific air of objectivity to racist ideas.

The resulting portraits are printed on a receipt, accompanied with a QR-code that links to the remade portrait on TRM’s website. There, the visitor is invited to explore the provenance of the images and their entanglement with historical systems of classification. The aim is to challenge visitors to consider the dominant cultural bias present in colonial photography and consider the parallels with contemporary software and their networks of distribution. After printing, the digital image is deleted; the physical photograph can be added to the museum walls and will slowly fade away.

The project is a comprehensive and critical extension of the two artists’ years-long research into photographic archives from the colonial era and the parallels with contemporary surveillance systems based on “machine vision”.

The Recognition Machine will be permanently on-view at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum from 7 March onwards and we strongly encourage you to check it out if you are in Cologne.

Versions of TRM have previously been shown at Working Title Festival by Workspace Brussels (2018), Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (2019), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin (2020), the Dakar Biennial (2022) and Cinema Nova Brussels (2023).

In June 2023, Antje Van Wichelen (as part of the collective Troubled Archives with Rokia Bamba, Peggy Pierrot, Loes Jacobs and Brenda Bikoko), presented the exhibition NEW HERO.IN.ES at the Moussem Studios. The exhibition was the result of a prior gathering of the collective at the studio of collodion master photographer Silvano Magnone, where they experimented with the collodion technique by photographing one another. Throughout the process, conversations about contemporary heroism and societal healing unfolded which were further explored in the subsequent presentation at Moussem, where 16 mm projectors aimed to reproduce the images made at Magnone’s studio and images from colonial databases, accompanied with a soundwork by Rokia Bamba.

Michael Murtaugh works as part of the collective the Institute for Computational Vandalism along with Nicolas Malevé, and Ellef Prestsæter (

Photo: Paolo Formica