Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Demonic Documentary

Survival Research Laboratories: Ten Years of Robotic Mayhem
Directed by Jon Reiss
Music Video Distributors

“It’s about creating more problems than you solve.” – SRL director Mark Pauline

The act of creating knife-wielding, saw-toothed, flesh-metal hybrid monsters that scream and eat each other and spit shards of glass into the faces of panicked onlookers is as complex as it is demented, no doubt about it. Many times as a young, angry Demonologist , I attempted building some sort of robot assassin to wipe some schoolyard bully fucker or another out, but as I can barely operate a telephone, I never got very far. That kinda stuff takes more than blind rage, it takes research, and development, and money, and skills, and talent. However, the idea behind Survival Research Laboratories – the un-wholesome collective of Gen-X terror tinkerers that conceived, constructed, and executed the performances, and performers, that make comprise this collection- is a remarkably simple one. You remember the cover of Big Black’s “Atomizer” album? A missile pointed at the Earth and a match. LET’S GO. That’s it, pretty much. Let’s get real, real gone, baby.

Formed in the late 70’s in San Fran (where else) by fledgling libertine Mark Pauline, SRL was an outlaw chop-shop that would beg, borrow, and steal (mostly steal) spare parts from broken machines and suture them together, add motors and whirligigs and steam engines and shock cannons, cover ‘em in animal hides and bones and rotting meat, and let ‘em loose in parking lots, too see what would happen. They combined performance art, actual research and development, industrial noise, robotics, pure, skull-fuck madness, and aesthetic (and literal, really) terrorism in one on-the-edge package, quite perfect for the nihilistic, apocalypse-minded, death trip nation that was America in the 80’s.

Pauline lost a finger or two to his creations along the way, but the amazing death-metal tableaus that he created were astonishing works of art. Luckily, he had the where-with-all and media savvy (despite his supposed disdain for conventional media) to have all of his perfs recorded on video and/or film for posterity. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, these nightmarish films were available via mailorder from the back of Film Threat magazine or stocked at hipster cult video stores, but they were never easy to find, which was certainly part of their appeal. It was outlaw art for outlaws, dig?

Ah, but those were simpler times. Virtually all of SRL’s ol' videos are collected in this bitchin’ collection, digitally remastered for yr viewin’ displeasure. But besides the nostalgic punk and death-trippers among us that’ll surely snatch this up for remember-when viewing, what does SRL offer to the new generation of thrill seekers? Does the sight of a shockwave cannon killing a yogurt-filled cow carcass on wheels have the same kinda of relevance in 2004 as it did in 1988?

Well, no, not really. In 2012, we've got too many real problems is to buy into Pauline’s robot-revolution. S’funny, back when these perfs and documentaries were shot, he really did make a lot of sense. Like at the Amsterdam performance, for example, where he talked about the need to add a predatory factor into a society to provoke it into action. There is certainly truth to that statement, and he proved it by shooting fireballs at the crowd until they finally had the sense to head for the fuckin’ hills. The problem is, in these desperate days, we have way too many predators now. But in 1988, even fingerless goofs from Frisco could be King Daddy Bad Asses.

But hey, even if the world doesn’t need Pauline’s suicidal gutbucket machines to straighten it out, that doesn’t mean it’s not a blast watchin’ the rusty beasts go to war. Best of the bunch here has gotta be “The Pleasures of Uninhibited Excess”, a documentary of SRL’s show at an SF art gallery in the late 80’s. Giant balls smash into each other and spew gunk. The shockwave cannon blasts people senseless. “The Finger”, a snake-like robot, flails around the room, lookin’ for victims. Outside, sirens wail. There’s cops and smoke and fire engines everywhere.

Interviewer: Did you see the performance?
Aging chick with 80’s haircut: "No, I’m a composer, my ears are precious to me. Plus, I just saw some guy walk out with his nose bleeding."
Guy that got blasted with cannon: "They just kept shooting it at me, I tried to get away, but they kept shooting me. The shockwave blasted the mask right off of my face."
Mark Pauline: "I don’t think anybody should trust us. I don’t think anybody should trust ANYBODY."
Bald guy on the street: " combine art with a life threatening experience is like a new high!"

There’s plenty more magic and madness here. People have been attempting to describe these crazy machines for 20 years now, but you really have to see them for yourself. SRLare still in operation, still creating monsters, and still perverting the norm, but this is a great place to start from, if you’re new to this stuff. Forget all those dumb robot battle TV shows, SRL is the real thing, and believe me, these cats are DESPERATELY FUCKED UP. Which is just how you like ‘em, right?

- Ken 

1 comment:

  1. It's a beautiful thing.
    Thanks Ken
    Thanks Swilson
    Keep up the good work!