By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Subject: 0101101001 (Cross Reference: Artificial Life Movement; Guerrilla Art; Punk Rock)
Key Target: Mark Pauline
Occupation(s): Expert welder, machinist, mechanical engineer, lecturer. Founder (1978) of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), a loose collective of industrial-art saboteurs (see Guerrilla Art) based in SanFrancisco that has staged more than 50 ritualized, massive-scale machine-art performances in the United States and Europe. According to the SRL manifesto, its mission is to "redirect the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifest in practicality, product, or warfare."
Education/Training: Pauline is a visual-arts grad of Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida), where he also studied experimental theatre. At Eckerd, Pauline associated with future punk figureheads Arto Lindsay and Exene Cervenka (see Punk Rock). Before college, Pauline served two years as a machinist in the U.S. Air Force, where he was trained to build targeting robots.
Distinguishing Physical Characteristics: Pauline is left-handed. In 1982, he blew off most of his right hand when the fuel in a rocket motor he was hammering on exploded. In a successful attempt to salvage the use of the hand, doctors grafted two of Pauline's toes onto the injured appendage, allowing him to grasp and carry objects with it.
Early Subversive Activities: After graduating from Eckerd, Pauline surfaced in San Francisco and immediately began a radical campaign of billboard defacings. The most noted was a U.S. Army recruiting placard whose slogan, "We'll pay you to learn a skill," was altered to read, "We'll pay you to kill."
The first SRL performance took place in February 1979 at a Chevron gas station in the North Beach district of San Francisco. Pauline paid the station's owner $40 for the space to put on "Machine Sex," which involved dead pigeons, several small robots, ten pounds of black-snake fireworks, and the Clash song "Killing an Arab" played at top volume.
SRL Performance Overview: Public demonstrations by the collective are sometimes dangerous, often illegal and always extreme.
Fitted with such ranting titles as "Epidemic of Fear: The Relief of Mass Hysteria Through Senseless Jungle Hate" and "Illusions of Shameless Abundance: Degenerating Into an Uninterrupted Sequence of Hostile Encounters," they typically consist of high-tech Frankenstein monsters--mutated heavy machinery, armed robots and retooled castoffs from the Cold War weapons industry--doing battle and obliterating props in a loosely choreographed orgy of destruction.
Some of the machines SRL builds are remote-controlled, but others are autonomous (see Artificial Life Movement). "Swarmers," for example, are SRL-built robots equipped with whips and sensors. Swarmers wheel about in random patterns until they sense another robot nearby, at which point they begin furiously flailing in all directions. Although audience members are kept on the perimeter of the melee, they are frequently menaced and occasionally imperiled.
Notable SRL Events:
Groundbreaking ceremony, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, April 8, 1992
SFMOMA hired SRL to perform at the $60million museum's groundbreaking ceremony in downtown San Francisco. The centerpiece of the show was an abstract, three-dimensional model of a city that spewed smoke and issued a piercing mechanical whine until it was destroyed in an act of apocalyptic symbolism by several blasts from a vintage V-1 German rocket engine converted into a mobile cannon.
A six-legged spider robot crushed naked human figures splayed on the ground while a hydraulic device ripped down a sheet of blue plastic that had concealed a mural of a group-sex scene.
Meanwhile, "The Spinner," designed by SRL artist Kevin Binkerts, spun a steel cable on a 200-horsepower engine fast enough to break the sound barrier and create a series of sonic booms that shook the glass in nearby skyscrapers.
Earlier that year, the noise from air-raid sirens and "The Spinner" at a show for a festival in Graz, Austria, titled "Deliberate Evolution of a War Zone," had prompted widespread panic from townsfolk who thought Serbs from nearby Yugoslavia were bombing them.
In San Francisco, a man who was driving past the museum during the performance sued SRL, claiming he had lost hearing because of the explosions. SRL's insurance company settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. It was the first and, to date, only time anyone has sued SRL for an injury sustained at a performance (however, it was neither the first nor the only time an observer or staff member was injured).
The MOMA dedication ceremony came to an end when the SRL performance started a fire that quickly burned out of control. The fire department responded, put out the flames and cited Pauline for creating a fire hazard, a $60 fine.
"Crime Wave," San Francisco, November 26, 1995
Held in a vacant lot beneath the Bay Bridge, "Crime Wave" was SRL's first U.S. show in more than 18 months. The location of the illegal event was publicized rave-style--at the last minute through word of mouth and on the Web.
The featured machine was the mobile "High-Pressure Air Launcher," a machine originally designed by NASA. The SRL version fires beer cans packed with cement, explosives and a detonator. The launcher is aimed via head movement (the operator wears a helmet linked to a high-resolution camera on the weapon's barrel). Several targets bearing the police sketch of the Unabomber were destroyed with blasts from the "HPAL." The performance also featured machines that spit pillars of flame and oily smoke, air-raid sirens and buzz saws, and a group of mechanized muggers who hacked away at the mannequin of a female victim. Inside a mock prison, one mechanical figure sodomized another beneath a sign that buzzed and flashed the word "Party."