Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art addresses the complex relationship between the technologies we use and the identities we inhabit. The exhibition presents the work of seventeen contemporary artists who ask some of the most urgent questions we face today: 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? What role should it have in our lives and in our communities?

Exhibition Details

Extended Exhibition Hours
August 31 - September 2, 2023

Thursday, August 31: 4PM - 8PM
Friday, September 1: 5PM - 9PM
Saturday, September 2: 1PM - 8PM


Difference Machines Closing Event

September 1, 2023 | 6-9PM
Paul Vanouse and Skawennati


Gray Area

2665 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

When the Web first emerged in the 1990s, many people imagined that it would allow us to escape our bodies. Some celebrated the idea that attributes like our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and dis/ability would become irrelevant.

Instead, the opposite became true: our offline and online selves have fused. We upload our identities when we put our real names in our Facebook profiles, post selfies to Instagram, or use hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #TransDayofVisibility to advocate for our communities.

While the internet allows us to express ourselves and connect with each other, there is also a darker side to digital technologies. Some governments and corporations are creating databases that surveil and monetize our identities, as well as biased algorithms that perpetuate discrimination in everything from education and healthcare to employment and the justice system. The forerunner of the computer was called a “difference engine,” as it was used to calculate the differences between numbers. Today, we are surrounded by “difference machines,” or computers that are used to encode the differences between us.

The artists in this exhibition explore our newly digitized identities by creatively adapting both familiar and emerging technologies. Their projects span the last three decades and range from software-based and internet art to animated videos, bioart experiments, online games, and 3-D printed sculptures. Many examine how digital systems contribute to the exclusion, erasure, and exploitation of marginalized people. Others emphasize how digital tools can be repurposed to tell more inclusive stories or imagine new ways of being. Dynamic and interactive, these projects transform the space of the museum into a laboratory for experimenting with our increasingly powerful “difference machines,” as we strive to invent a more equitable future.

This exhibition was originated in 2021 by the Buffalo AKG Art Museum and co-curated by Tina Rivers Ryan, Curator at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, with Paul Vanouse, Professor at the University at Buffalo. Its presentation at Gray Area is coordinated by Wade Wallerstein, Associate Curator & Community Manager at Gray Area.

Morehshin Allahyari and Stephanie Dinkins

August 22, 2023 | 6-9PM

Join us at Gray Area for a special conversation between Difference Machines artists Morehshin Allahyari and Stephanie Dinkins.

Come down to the Grand Theater for an intimate salon-style gathering with introductions to the works by the artists themselves! Afterwards, stick around for an informal dialogue between Allahyari and Dinkins, moderated by our associate curator Wade Wallerstein.

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Paul Vanouse & Skawennati

September 1, 2023 | 6-9PM

Celebrate the end of the run of Difference Machines: Technology & Identity in Contemporary Art!

Exhibition curator Paul Vanouse, will be on-site from Buffalo, New York, to give a guided tour and introduction to the show. This will be followed by a screening of work by Difference Machines artist Skawennati.

Following the screening, coordinating curator Wade Wallerstein will moderate a conversation between Vanouse and Skawennati. This insightful discussion will unpack the thematics of the show, and point towards lessons that can be learned from artists working with and speculating on technology.

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Weekly happy hour at Difference Machines | Fridays @ 6PM

Starting July 21, join us at Difference Machines on Fridays for happy hour*!

Each Friday at 6PM, Gray Area associate curator Wade Wallerstein will host a guided tour of the exhibition. Get to know the artists on view better over drinks.
*Excluding Friday, August 11.

Tickets to join in are the same as regular admission, reserve yours today!

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About the Artists:

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