Survival Research Laboratories

Mark Pauline

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is a machine performance art group credited for pioneering the genre of large-scale machine performance. After about 30 years in San Francisco, SRL spent most of 2008 moving 40 miles north to Petaluma. Since its inception in 1978 SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians and technical creatives dedicated to redirecting the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.

Since 1979, SRL has staged over 45 mechanized presentations in the United States and Europe. Each performance consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special-effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators.

SRL was founded by Mark Pauline in 1978. The first show was ‘Machine Sex’ the following year. Throughout the 1980s Pauline was joined by a number of machine artists including Matt Heckert and Eric Werner. Matt Heckert’s main work in the group centered around the acoustic and musical parts of performance.

He left the group in 1988 to follow his musical interests, developing the award winning Mechanical Sound Orchestra (MSO). SRL shows are essentially performance art installations acted out by machines rather than people. The interactions between the machines are usually noisy, violent, and destructive.

A frequent tag-line on SRL literature is ‘Producing the most dangerous shows on Earth.’ A side-effect of the group’s activities is frequent interactions with governmental and legal authorities. Early performances featured animal skins and cadavers animated by mechanical endoskeletons; recent performances feature large and technically advanced robots that reflect a paranoid militaristic imagination. In the SRL workshop, a high value is placed on found or repurposed materials and machines. An example is ‘The Big Arm,’ a telemetrically controlled robot made from an abandoned back-hoe that drags itself around by its ‘arm.’

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