The Art of War

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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.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse

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