Survival Research Laboratories

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SRL Performance in Los Angeles, 2006

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is a machine performance art group credited for pioneering the genre of large-scale machine performance.[1][2][3] After about 30 years in San Francisco, California, SRL spent most of 2008 moving to Petaluma, California.[4]

Since its inception in 1978 SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians and technical creatives dedicated to re-directing 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 50 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 November, 1978. The first show was "Machine Sex" on February 25, 1979.[5]

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 on the acoustic and musical parts of performance. He left the group in 1988[6] to follow his musical interests, developing the award-winning Mechanical Sound Orchestra (MSO)[7] which has toured the USA and Europe extensively.

As of late 2012, SRL conducted over 50[8] shows throughout the world, mostly in the Western United States. 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 re-purposed materials and machines. An example is The Big Arm, a telematically controlled robot made from an abandoned back-hoe that drags itself around by its "arm."


SRL has received serious consideration as not only a pioneer of industrial performance art[9], but also as a legitimate heir to the traditions of Dada and the art of Jean Tinguely, in which paradoxical creations are used to call into question the state and direction of technological society[10].

In addition, many SRL members have gone on to be involved in other avant-garde artistic projects such as the Cacophony Society, the Suicide Club, The Haters, Robochrist Industries, People Hater, Seemen, Burning Man, and robotics projects such as Battlebots and Robot Wars.

SRL has also been praised as being one place where many women[11][12][13] have had access to machine workshop tools. A RE-Search book is planned; events have been held discussing this theme.[14]

List of SRL devices[edit]

SRL devices are usually given interesting names, such as:[15]

  • Flame Hurricane
  • "Square Wheeled Car" – industrial vehicle equipped with square wheels and no brakes or external control.
  • The V1 – a replica of the engine of a World War II V1 flying bomb pulse jet
  • Hand-O'-God – a giant spring-loaded hand, cocked by an air cylinder
  • The Pitching Machine – a device which fires 2x4 pieces of lumber
  • Shockwave Cannon – a device which fires a shockwave of air, shattering glass remotely with the force, constructed similarly to the shockwave-based Wunderwaffen anti-bomber device or the so-called hail cannon.
  • Wheelocopter – a spinning machine which applies the principles of rotorcraft to a two-dimensional plane
  • Six-Legged "Running" Machine, a gas-engine powered tripedal device featuring three pairs of legs which reciprocate using a chain-driven tank-tread-like actuator, alternately extending to provide locomotion. The front pair of legs pivots, providing steering, while the rear two pairs provide forward motion.
  • High Pressure Air Launcher – originally developed by NASA for use in avalanche control; fires beer cans filled with plaster using a CO2 charge

Their performances are also given colorfully elaborate names as a comment on bureaucratically generated research projects&papers, such as 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.[15]


  1. ^ "LA – The Art of Extreme Robotics". February 24, 2002. Archived from the original on 2007-07-06.
  2. ^ V. Vale (ed), "Industrial Culture Handbook", Re/Search Publicatpeopions, 1983
  3. ^ Mark Pauline NNDB.
  4. ^ Petaluma. Survival Research Laboratories. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  5. ^ V. Vale (ed), "Industrial Culture Handbook", Re/Search Publications, 1983, page 40.
  6. ^ Matt Heckert official website
  7. ^ Munich Samba, Golden Nica 1997. Ars Electronica.
    Munich Samba, Golden Nica 1997 Archived 2012-03-24 at the Wayback Machine. Radio report.
    Stocker, Gerfried; Schöpf, Christine (1997). FleshFactor: Informationsmaschine Mensch, Springer Wien.
  8. ^ SRL Chronological Shows and Installations
  9. ^ see e.g. Vale, "industrial Culture Handbook"
  10. ^ Ballet, Nicolas (29 January 2019). "Survival Research Laboratories: A Dystopian Industrial Performance Art". Arts. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Tentacle Session #35 : Sunday 21 July 2002 – The Women of SRL".
  15. ^ a b Lucas, Adam (1995). "Mark Pauline – The Art Of War". 21-C Magazine.

External links[edit]