Founded by Mark Pauline in November 1978, Survival Research Laboratories “is a machine performance art group credited for pioneering the genre of large scale machine performance”, self-described as “producing the most dangerous shows on Earth” and “re-directing the techniques, tools and tenets of industry, science and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.”
The 48 SRL shows so far enacted (as of 2013) around the USA and Europe have featured violently apocalyptic interactions between a variety of highly unique machines, robots and special effects devices, bearing such wry titles as ‘A Plan for Social Improvement’, ‘The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts’, ‘Survival Research Laboratories Contemplates a Million Inconsiderate Experiments’ and ‘A Calculated Forecast of Ultimate Doom – Sickening Episodes of Widespread Devastation Accompanied by Sensations of Pleasurable Excitement’…
Early performances often included animal cadavers animated by mechanical endoskeletons (the first, a reaction to the 1979 oil crisis, “featured a conveyor belt-run machine chewing up and spitting out dead pigeons dressed as tiny Arabs, to the soundtrack of noise plus The Cure’s ‘Killing an Arab’”), progressing into “large and technically advanced robots that reflect a paranoid militaristic imagination”. The group are also credited with a number of other notable achievements, including the first live stream of wireless video (1997), the first mechanical test of a swarming/flocking algorithm (1992) and being the first civilians to code and use telerobotics for lethal devices over the internet.
They can also lay claim to the first performance using an animal-controlled robot, as Pauline “built a 6-legged walking robot with a harness that held his guinea pig Stu in place”, Stu’s movements actuating the motors which moved the robot.
So dedicated to the cause that even a partially amputated hand (careful handling rockets kids!) didn’t stop him, Pauline continues to orchestrate mecha-havoc from SRL headquarters in Petaluma, California, where the group relocated in 2008, after nearly 30 years based in San Francisco.