Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is the brainchild of Mark Pauline, and was founded in 1978. SRL has the following Mission Statement "SRL is an organization of creative technicians dedicated to redirecting the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare. Performances consist of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special-effect devices, employed in developing themes of sociopolitical satire." On its web site: (http://www.srl.org),SRL claim to "produce the most dangerous shows on Earth," and SRL has gained a cult following, due to its anarchic gut-wrenching machine performances, which have been described as "theatrical displays which blend high and low technology and transform junkyard, industrial and avant-garde aesthetics into explosive socio-political satire....which draw attention to everyday technological violence" (Lucas, 1995).
Since its foundation, SRL has performed over 45 mechanized presentations, and 'typical' performances and exhibitions have included:
The Deliberate Evolution of a Warzone: A Parable of Spontaneous Structural Disintegration, which was performed in Austria, and in which machines battled against each other, and an overhead crane moved between them, trying to break up the fights. The crane hurled down bombs in order to break up the fights, each of which had the equivalent of two sticks of dynamite. In the midst of all of this, a V-1 rocket backfired, which shook the building (an abandoned toilet paper factory), along with gas detonations and lightning from fireballs. Also used were air-raid sirens that were powered by multistage turbo compressors (Mraz, 1999).
This particular performance generated so much noise that local residents thought a Serbian attack was underway, and the Austrian Ministry of Defense put the military on alert, who sent in a squad of armed troops to investigate (Mraz, 1999). Responding to this particular development, Mark Pauline said, "It was a bad scene
We've done five shows in Europe now, and three have ended up generating political responses." Another such incident occurred with their performance A Million Inconsiderate Experiments in Phoenix, AZ, which was carried out near a prison, and due to the noise of the performance, convinced the prison guards that a break-out was taking place, so that they came out in full SWAT gear to ward off the suspected jailbreak.
Another performance, The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts, used as its major prop a half-scale replica of the University of Texas tower, from which a sniper, Charles Whitman, killed sixteen people and wounded a further thirty, in 1966. SRL put a mannequin on top of the replica, who shouldered a rifle (Mraz, 1999). This show highlighted SRL's willingness to avoid the 'sacred cow' phenomena, which often befalls other visual artists.
Other SRL shows have included:
Increasing the Latent Period in a System of Remote Destructibility
Million Inconsiderate Experiments
Calculated Forecast of Ultimate Doom: Sickening Episodes of Widespread Devastation Accompanied by Sensations of Pleasurable Excitement
All of which utilized remote-controlled flame-throwers, jet engines, shock wave canons, huge tele-operated arms and jaws on wheels, and other oversized pieces of powerful, multi-ton machinery, which is designed to make a lasting impression on the audience: according to Mark Pauline "The idea is to make people's fear of a technological Armageddon come true in a controlled environment
So, we design machines to look as unsafe as possible, machines that look like they would hurt you if they got too close" (Mraz, 1999).
Other performances have included the use of artificial life, where the machines operated and interacted automatically, but these were soon stopped, as it is difficult to integrate sensor technology and to keep the performances safe for the public (Mraz, 1999).
Many performances have also been broadcast on the internet, and through the internet, viewers were able to interact with the machines, remotely.
These performances made SRL artists the first civilians to use software over the internet, which could be used for the remote, anonymous control of lethal devices over the internet. The first show using this technology at Austin, Texas in 1997, was the first time that live, wireless streaming video had been broadcast over the internet. This show utilized a microwave antenna that was erected three miles away from the Longhorn Speedway, in order to provide a live, wireless, video broadcast of the SRL performance The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts.
Other performances have been staged free of charge at SRL headquarters, with an audience attracted solely by word-of-mouth, an audience that is generally an art crowd, that is at once geeky and edgy (Ridenour, 2001).
These 'private' performances often verged on the illegal, with the use of flame-throwers, and as such, have been referred to as 'guerrilla performances' in many circles (Ridenour, 2001).
The talents that Mark Pauline brought to SRL were a great deal of experience in engineering and a degree in visual arts, which he combined to produce the huge performances typical of SRL, which "rival other popular culture events but which are extremely difficult from them" (Mraz, 1999). All of the performances by SRL are aimed at providing a unique set of ritualized actions between machines, robots and special effects devices, which are employed in developing themes of socio-political satire, during which humans are only present as audience or operators (http://www.srl.org).Clearly, the performances are designed to act on the psychology of the audience, with machines that are designed to test the audience's beliefs in the power of engineering, in order to create and 'event', a 'performance', rather than an exhibition.
Certainly, all SRL events are designed to shock, scare and startle the audience, and often the local townspeople, who, as we have seen, are often not even attending or aware of the performance. SRL performances assault their audience with extreme noise, flashing lights, shockwaves and the movement of huge, frightening machines. Research by French engineers has also shown that the V-1 rocket makes the audience feel like they are drunk, that their IQ drops, and also that their ability to function in an environment where it is used is curtailed. The audience is thus intoxicated by SRL performances.
The aesthetic sense of many SRL performances is not conventionally beautiful in the usual sense of aesthetic, as used in reference to visual arts performances, but the performances are clearly thought-provoking and are certainly considered to be beautiful by many of the audience and fans of SRL, in terms of the beauty of the science and engineering that is on display through the construction of the equipment used during the performances. SRL performances could indeed be considered both aesthetic and inspirational, as this collaborative use of engineering and artistry pushes the boundaries of both visual art and engineering, to form something entirely unique and stimulating.
Other SRL performances have deliberately aimed at being aesthetic, in the usual sense of the word, as applied to the visual arts, for example Robot Love Goes Wrong, which was staged around a voluptuous sheet-metal heart, and a silver Cupid statue, around which voluptuous human females danced, whilst a robot Manipulatrix kissed the Cupid statue. The performance unfolded, much like an opera, following the romance, until its eventual descent in to jealousy and mistrust, at which point, the (more usual) flame-throwing and machine-machine combat broke out. This, more aesthetic, performance is interesting, in that it also marked a departure for SRL, in that it used - for the first time - human subjects in one of the performances.
What are the implications of SRL performances? Aside from the possibility of upsetting their audiences, and the ever-present possibility of an accident befalling one of the operators, or a member (or members) of the audience, the implications of SRL performances are many and varied. Through their performances, SRL attempt to push the bounds of science, technology and engineering, as seen, particularly, in their experiments…