Difference Machines
Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art
July 7 – August 31, 2023

  •  Jun 8, 2023
  •  Gray Area

June 8, 2023 (San Francisco, CA – Gray Area is proud to present Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art. This exhibition includes work from seventeen artists that spans the last three decades, ranging from software-based and internet art to animated videos, bioart experiments, digital games, and 3-D printed sculptures. Organized by the Buffalo AKG museum, this timely exploration of how we inhabit identity through technology travels to Gray Area on the second stop on its North American tour. The show will open to the public on July 7th, with special opening events including gallery tours by co-curators Paul Vanouse, University at Buffalo Professor, and Tina Rivers Ryan, Buffalo AKG Curator.

Difference Machines arrives in San Francisco at a pivotal moment, when a new wave of innovation in artificial intelligence, decentralized networks, and spatial computing is redefining the ways in which we communicate, work, learn, and create. When the Web first emerged in the 1990s, many people imagined that it would allow us to escape our bodies. Instead, the opposite became true, and individuals’ offline and online selves have fused. Many works in this exhibition 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 ask audiences to not only reconsider the infrastructures of exclusion that undergird society, but also to reimagine how we might use our increasingly powerful “difference machines” to generate radical change.

“Computers, in a way, have always been about the construction of difference,” explains Difference Machines co-curator Tina Rivers Ryan. “The show presumes that difference is not something innate, but socially produced, and technology has always had a role in that process. By invoking earlier moments in the history of computation, we’re trying to help people understand that the production of difference is intrinsic to computation. Where do we go from here?”

Difference Machines continues Gray Area’s 15th anniversary focus on Access, which spans across events, education, and research programs. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s survey of technological culture in Mexico, TECHS-MECHS, challenged prescribed notions of Latinx identity by complicating relationships between technologies, bodies, and borders. The CripTech Metaverse Lab and C/Change Labs are prototyping how emerging technologies, when imbued with intentional design, can open up new pathways for connection and inclusion. Finally, the 2023 Gray Area Festival will consider how we can build plurality into cultural infrastructure that will enable the future of creativity. All of these programs ask urgent questions about organization and governance, digital democracy, data sovereignty, new cultural understandings of creativity, the role of the artist, the future of work, and planetary futures.

“At Gray Area we believe artists have a vital role to play in shaping an equitable and regenerative future for society,” said Barry Threw, Gray Area’s Executive and Artistic Director. “Our Access program centers artistic inquiry as a means to help us better understand our present, and envision a more inclusive future; Difference Machines demonstrates the power of this approach.”
Difference Machines earned the 2022 Curatorial Award for Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) making it the first major survey of art and technology to be acknowledged by AAMC.

Admission & Hours

Difference Machines will be open to the public July 7 – August 31st, 2023, from 4-8PM on Thursday and Friday, and 1-5PM Saturday and Sunday (closed Monday through Wednesday).

Annual Gray Area Memberships beginning at the $125/year level grant free admission to all Gray Area events and exhibitions. Adult general admission starts at $15; admission for seniors, students, and visitors aged 13-18 is $10; and admission for visitors under the age of 13 is free. With all Gray Area programming, no one is turned away for lack of funds.

The exhibition will be open for a Gray Area Members preview on July 6th from 6-9PM, and on July 8th from 1pm to 4pm with an intimate Curators' Tour & Artist Talk.

The ticketed public Opening Reception will take place on July 7th from 6-9PM, and will feature an introduction to the exhibition and opening remarks from curators Tina Rivers Ryan and Paul Vanouse.

Tickets are available at grayarea.org

About Gray Area

Gray Area is a San Francisco-based nonprofit cultural incubator. Our mission is to cultivate, sustain, and apply antidisciplinary collaboration — integrating art, technology, science, and the humanities — towards a more sustainable and equitable future. Since our inception in 2008, Gray Area has established itself as a singular hub for critically engaging with technology in the Bay Area, while also reaching a global audience. Through our platform of public events, education, and research programs, we empower a diverse community of creative practitioners with the agency to produce meaningful, category-defying work.


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Media Contact:

Victoire Poumadere
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