The Art of War
From: Super Bowl XXX Security
To: All Units
Re: Preparatory to possibly subversive January 27 machine-art demonstration at Icehouse on Jackson Street, downtown Phoenix
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."
At the conclusion of the performance, two SRL operators piloting a converted street sweeper--painted black and outfitted with a helicopter propeller topside--demolished all props. "Crime Wave" was described on SRL's Web site as "a rumination on many humorous aspects of violent human interaction." The SanFrancisco fire and police departments cited Pauline with 13 misdemeanors and infractions.
"Funhouse," San Francisco, January 9, 1996
A performance at Wired magazine's third-anniversary party, "Funhouse" was billed by SRL as "One in a continuing series of Inconsiderate Experiments to be performed on the public during the coming months. Come laugh at the futile struggle to survive."
Operative report (as filed by University of California law student and on-line entrepreneur Kurt Opsahl): "The crowd was black leather and mini-backpacks as far as the eye could see. The whole place smelled like gasoline and it was loud as hell. There was a bank of computers where SRL guys were feeding live video of the whole thing over the web. Despite the gas, some of them were smoking. They had the big gun [the V-1] there, and this figure of a guy hanging from the ceiling, kicking his feet, and this thing that looked half R2/D2, half Borg [from Star Trek: The Next Generation].
"There was also robot with giant snapping scythes like crab claws and a long metal flower that would extend its petals and spin like a saw blade. The scythe thing and the flower went at it for a while, but that was the only real fighting. Mostly the things just banged around and whizzed at one another for a long time. The flower was obviously the most impressive machine. There was also a robot that would pop out from behind a door with pseudo-graffiti on it and fire a shotgun at you--that was impressive the first time, but really once you'd seen all the robots do their thing, which took about two minutes, you'd seen it all."
Operative report addendum (as filed by freelance photographer and Hot Wired magazine Web writer Derek Powazek, who suffered a burn on his foot from a metal ember): "SRL has great press relations. They don't tell you where to go and what not to do, you just catch on fire if you're in the wrong place."
Summary of Aesthetic Criticism: Some of Pauline's fans laud him as a genius protest artist whose work is a dark, satirical comment on consumer culture, the military-industrial complex and the popular myth of antiseptic, automated warfare.
Others call his work an extension of the same keen sense of the absurd relationship between man and machine prevalent in the Dadaist movement of the Twenties. Pauline is also often described as a descendant of such midcentury machine artists as Jean Tinguely, who in 1960 unveiled a gigantic contraption of salvaged and stolen objects, including hammers, saws, a fire extinguisher, a piano and several radios. Tinguely promoted "Homage to New York" as a machine designed to destroy the Museum ofModern Art, but when he cranked it up inthe museum's sculpture garden, the machine caught fire and destroyed itself.
In a recently completed PBS documentary on the Machine Arts movement titled Pandemonium, Pauline joked that he is preparing for the Terminator scenario--atime when machines will be able to self-replicate and won't need humans anymore. "Any machines that do take over are going to realize that [SRL] served them well," he says. "We broadened the range of perceptions that people might have of machines in a way that was quite important to their evolution. We'll probably be rewarded in machine heaven."
Critics of Pauline and SRL deride the collective's performances as little more than cyberpunk monster-truck rallies--that by representing the mindless violence and high-tech destruction in an entertaining medium, the group perpetuates the very ills it purports to protest.
The collective's founder says he just wants to get people to look at technology with new eyes. "The model for the future of our interaction with machines, if we want to avoid our impending destruction, is to start thinking of our interaction in terms of beyond the rational."
Dossier Appendix I: Transcription of New Times interview with Mark Pauline conducted January 14, 1996.
NT: What drives you?
MP: Hate. I hate the practical world. I hate the way that things work. But I don't want to just sit around and be a vegetable. Doing SRL is the best solution I've been able to find because it relieves the pain without causing death.
NT: What exactly is your problem with the practical world?
MP: I developed a loathing for it at a very early age. I just hate the regimentation and the inevitability of things. I hate the way things are presented--like how we are supposed to use the devices around us, and how we are supposed to define them and look at them in a certain way. I just personally feel an aversion to accepting those definitions, and this is my little way of trying to equalize the situation, to try and neutralize the way things are looked at and present it to the public so that people can sort of get a different viewpoint on technology, and, subsequently, the world as a whole.
Machines are a very narrow slice of the big picture, clearly, but that's just my particular way. It's the language I use. It's like Edgar Allan Poe said: Everyone has a little bit of the imp of the perverse in them, and that's basically what it's about. It's about resisting. And I think that's sort of largely responsible for the popularity of SRL shows, because people relate to that. Everyone does it in a small way. Or, in some cases, a large one.
NT: So you hope to spur people to discard their conditioning and look at technology in amore intuitive way?
MP: I just hope to spur people to look at things differently. And I don't care so much about the consistency of response. I don't care if all people like it, I just like to see that people have some kind of response. My job is to make the performance an intricate and interesting enough puzzle that people will want to take it apart. That's what I try to do with shows. There's no language in the shows. At best, the way the message is conveyed is through visual sight gags that reference back to what the title might be, or the theme of the show. And so, if you're going to do anything at the show other than just experience the physical thrill of it, you sort of have to decide what it's about on a personal level. And maybe it's not about anything on a personal level.
I rely on people to make up their own minds about what goes on at an SRL show, because it's not very cut and dried what it's about. But I don't rely on people to be able to create the excitement surrounding an event. That's my responsibility. It's my job to make it very extreme and very intense, and to sort of concentrate as much energy in the smallest space and to release in the shortest amount of time. I don't really believe in the minimalist approach to things.
NT: You've never embraced the label "artist." Is that because your shows are destructive rather than creative?
MP: It's hard to say what is a creation and what is a destruction. Rockets create a liftoff by destroying their fuel. Cars move us from place to place at a relatively fast speed because they destroy the environment and destroy the fuel and slowly destroy their components. Machines are destroying themselves from the moment they are created. So are people. From the minute you're born, you're wearing down, you're getting old, you're being destroyed. Naturally, I recognize that it's different in a show because, of course, it's accelerated.
But if you look at it technically, not all that much is destroyed. And you have to consider all the months of work that went into making that moment possible. On balance, what we're presenting is extreme, but not destructive. There's an intense element, but that's characteristic of machines. That's the point, right? The point is that they are better able to express the demands of people than the individual can. That's what they're for.
NT: Why is controversy your shadow?
MP: Any time you do what you want, you create controversy. Simple as that. And the people who work around here are exploring forbidden fantasies of their own. At SRL, we try to formulate this hermetic world that's just sort of a playground of the sentiment that you can just turn things around, turn them upside-down, and make an Alice in Wonderland out of the technologies that everyone uses in their day-to-day lives or benefits from or suffers from. [SRL's base of operations is a warehouse junkyard in SanFrancisco's Portrero Hill district.]
Concentrate that much self-obsession into one place in a way that's somewhat uncontrolled, and naturally you're going to come up with things that upset some people. Everyone has a different threshold. [For s]ome people, it seems to be very low; some people, it's very high. In San Francisco you can do most anything, and in Europe you can do most anything. But we've found some places where you definitely can't.
[In August 1990, Artpark, a public arts facility in Lewiston, New York, canceled an SRL show when administrators learned that Pauline had put out posters nationwide requesting donations of Bibles that were to cover a "love goddess machine" like tiles on a roof, then burned in a fiery battle. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan made Pauline's planned performance his "Outrage of the Week." SRL sued the state of New York and accepted a $10,000 out-of-court settlement in 1994.]
NT: How do you delineate the relationship between the military and advanced technology?
MP: The military has always been the driver for technology. Before technology really established itself as the beachhead upon which the whole of society was based, there was no real impetus to develop it. I mean, there's always been sort of a commercial impetus, especially in the last 200 years. Butreally, to develop something as difficult as new technology, it has to be sort of characterized as a life-or-death situation. That's the only way that people can comprehend it and motivate themselves enough, economically and in an organizational sense, to work together and create advanced technologies.
The idea that there was an intense need to outdo the enemy, that pushed people's creativity to the limit--it made them think more, and it made them think more intelligently, more clearly. And that's what brought us to the modern world as we know it.
Recently, however, the equation has started to change, and industry has become the driving force of technology. It is very, very difficult to convince people that they should support really complex sorts of human endeavors like that; but in the high-tech world, the stakes are so high, money can be made in a such a fast way that it's alluring. And so the commercial world has started to take over from the military. It never had the ability to do that before, because there was never enough of a concentration of wealth. That's why it was called the military-industrial complex--because the industrial complex never had quite what it took to maintain technology. Now they do. The civilian companies are driving technology. They've concentrated enough money to allow technology to grow outside the military.
NT: If and when wetware [cyborg-style physical enhancement] becomes feasible, will you partake?
MP: Sure. I'd take anything I could get. I'd like to get another hand put on--I'd line up to get something like that. It's just a more direct way of doing what I do now. It'd be nice to turn myself into a general-purpose machine shop. Then I could carry it all around with me.
NT: Is the progress of technology out of control, and what is the biggest danger now associated with technology?
MP: I think the fear of losing control is what makes things as safe as they are. That's probably the only reason things are close to safe in industrialized nations. But obviously we're in shifting sands. Stuff changes really fast. The more complicated technology gets, the better your tools for controlling it become, but the harder it is to control. At some point, things become wildly out of balance--especially when you consider that decisions aren't really driven by real considerations. They're driven by political considerations and economic considerations that make it so the process of implementing technology is less than optimum.
At some point, technology is going to become so powerful that a little glitch can result in a very severe change in the way things are. I don't think technology is that powerful yet, but I think in a few years it will be.
NT: How severe do you see the current nuclear threat?
MP: It seems like we sort of got through nuclear power, but what happens when a place like SRL can make nuclear bombs or a deadly virus if we want to? Advanced technology has a way of getting handed down and simplified until it becomes ubiquitous. It's just that the really deadly technologies haven't quite gotten to that point yet. But they will.
Right now, people who have skills to use technology tend to be very educated and thus socialized. Now, it's pretty compartmentalized. Now, most of the people who are feeling disenfranchised and bitter with the technological world are pretty much the people who don't really have the skills to participate anyway. They're not trained to be part of that world, so they don't get to be part of it.
But you know, those things change. And the proven tendency is for people to become less prone to take the moral equation into consideration. That's the real danger of technology.
NT: Can you offer a preview of the SRL show in Phoenix?
MP: We're working on the title right now, but it'll probably be some variation on the "Inconsiderate Experiment" series. The show in Phoenix will be fairly limited, because the money isn't there to bring down a lot of the machines. We'll bring the V-1 down there, some mummy props, a mechanical arm. A large set of foghorns and the rail gun [a device that can liquefy a steel bar, then shoot the molten metal at a target, where it explodes on impact]. We'll be bringing some of the bigger, louder machines that have more flame capability, because I understand we have a permit for fire, and we certainly want to take advantage of that.
"Supermachine XXX," a week of industrial-art events at Icehouse, 429 West Jackson, is scheduled to culminate with a machine-art demonstration by Survival Research Laboratories on Saturday, January 27. For showtime and ticket info, call 256-6333.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.