The Art of War

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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.]

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse

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