The History of Crossover Art
- Kinetic Art - Survival Research Laboratories


Survival Research Laboratories : Burn, Baby, Burn. 2001

Fig.: SRL: Burn, Baby, Burn!

Fig.: SRL: Boeing on Fire



"Mark Pauline (the founder of Survival research Laboratories) says he applied to art school to break up the monotony of designing weaponry. At Eckerd, he says, he was influenced by the school's experimental theater department. 'The head of the department was a very strange, very radical theater person,'he recalls. In school, his peers included a coterie of young men and women who would go on to embrace a new style of rock music: punk.

'A lot of the people from the early punk scene went there,'Pauline says. 'Arto Lindsay from DNA went there. Exene [Cervenka, of X] and her sister Maxine, they were hanging around there. People from other bands, like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks... We were all trying to be punks back in the early- and middle- '70s.'

Upon graduation, Pauline moved to San Francisco, where he began vandalizing billboards as a form of social commentary. Subjected to his brushes, the Army's 'We'll pay you to learn a skill,' for instance, became 'We'll pay you to kill.' But billboard modification only hinted at Pauline's unconventional creativity. Contemplating his future while passing afternoons in coffee shops, he hit upon the concept for SRL.

'I just sat down and said, what do I know how to do? I know how to work with machines. I could do shows with machines. It's really as simple as that.'

Fifteen years after its inception, Survival Research Laboratories continues to test the boundaries of anarchy with its elaborate displays of man-made hysteria. With a little prodding, Pauline acknowledges some similarities between SRL and punk: 'Certainly, some of the same rawness, or energy, that was part of that scene has always been part of SRL. But you could also say that's because machines are like that. You could say that machines are punk, you know?'

At this, Pauline's chiseled visage breaks into a smile­­a rather infrequent occurrence for this blackhearted subversive hailing from the Sunshine State.

A surrealist grease monkey, Pauline is the possessor of a remarkable gift for the mechanical sciences. He's widely (if quietly) respected within academic and engineering circles. He's a lecturer on the university circuit; he's an expert metal fabricator who sometimes commands $1,000 a day for his freelance work designing highly specialized electronics; and he's a role model for corporate planners who admire SRL's organizational blueprint. He's also a constant thorn in the side of public officials and private citizens, especially - but not solely - in his home town.


Past SRL shows have resulted in such newsworthy controversies as the 'bomb hoax' (1989), in which realistic-looking TNT casings wreaked havoc throughout San Francisco for days after a show featuring the explosives as props, and the 'Artpark' ruling (1990), in which an outdoor venue in Lewiston, NY, cancelled an SRL performance when its directors realized the artists intended to burn hundreds of bibles. In Austria in 1992, the aptly titled SRL show 'The Deliberate Evolution of a War Zone' set off a disturbance dubbed 'Kriegsangst' ­ 'War Fear' in the local press, when the group's most powerful noisemakers, including an apparatus called 'the Spinner' (a steel cable spun by a 200-horsepower engine that breaks the sound barrier), had neighboring residents convinced that Serb bombers were attacking.

Presented at a waterfront location in San Francisco, 1994's SRL show called 'A Calculated Forecast of Ultimate Doom' was featured on an episode of the CBS newsprogram 'America Tonight'. During the broadcast, a Port Commission official was interviewed on camera. His statements infuriated San Francisco's firefighters, who have since been uncooperative with SRL.

'He was like the difference between a security guard and a policeman,' Pauline explains. 'The whole department was really humiliated on national television.'

Subsequently, SRL has been going to great lengths to keep information about their performances from the disgruntled fire department. The location of the 'Crime Wave' show was a secret to all but three or four members of SRL's innermost circle until the night before the event, when it was posted on their Web site.

For 'Crime Wave,' SRL enlisted promoter Will Linn, curator at a local art gallery called Blast Haus. 'He went around to these guys' parking lots and he just said, I want to do an art event for my gallery,' Pauline says. 'He had the perfect front image for that. People in that area want to support the arts and be counted as a cultural center, so it was a perfect come-on.'"

(James Sullivan)

ntions, at the parc des expositions, porte de varsailles. Duchamp has taken a tiny stand of three square meters to exhibit Rotoreliefs. In a joint venture with Henri Pierre Roche, 500 sets of six colored disks have been produced and were designed to be placed on a gramophone. Turningat the certain speed the disk give an impression of depth, Duchamp suggested that the optical illusions becomes more intense when viewed with only one eye.