“I love wasting technology,” Mark Pauline tells me. “I love it when you take something that’s really practical and do something ridiculous with it.” We’re standing in the middle of Marlborough Contemporary, a white cube gallery in New York’s Chelsea district that has suddenly been converted into what appears to be a near-future auto repair shop. The heady tang of gasoline and grease fills the air. A crew of assistants is performing last-minute surgery on a variety of large-scale machines—inspecting welds, checking voltages—and Pauline roves around the space, the crew-cutted foreman overseeing this high-tech madness.
Nothing here resembles a contemporary art exhibition, but Pauline isn’t really in the contemporary art business. He’s the founder of something called Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), an outfit he launched in 1978 with the intent of creating chaotic live performances featuring remote-controlled robotic creatures. Or, as he bills them, “dangerous and disturbing mechanical presentations.”
This is SRL’s first proper New York outing in over two decades. (The group is now based in Petaluma, California, a bit less than 40 miles from San Francisco.) Back in 1985 they participated in a show at the now-defunct Manhattan nightclub Area, pitting various machines against each other in a sort of industrial boxing ring. One of the kinetic assemblages was “driven” by a guinea pig named Stu, Pauline’s pet, who controlled the device from a small command center embedded within it. (“I spent a long time training it so it didn’t panic around the machine,” the artist affirms.)