Rivers of fire. Gnashing metal claws. Burning buildings. Army surplus rocket engines and abstract mechanical dinosaurs. Lumbering steel insects armed with flamethrowers and rotating cow skulls.
A capacity crowd of 5,000 Texans packed Longhorn Speedway to witness the spectacle—a chaotic evening of well-managed explosions, choreographed pyromania and all-purpose destruction—courtesy of Survival Research Laboratories ( SRL).
This past weekend, SRL, a San-Francisco based industrial arts group, brought its own brand of high-impact social commentary to Austin. In its first Texas performance—aptly titled “The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts”—the group demonstrated the darker side of technology through an trademark “machine show” at a rural motor sports arena.
Who are SRL and why did they come to Texas?
For nearly twenty years, Survival Research Laboratories has staged elaborate mechanized spectacles in the name of theatre—conceptual art played out by lovingly-created mechanical mutants. The main players—the machines of SRL—combine heavy industrial machinery and “reappropriated” military machinery with cutting-edge robotics technology. Weapons of war and industrial production are disassembled and remade into primal nightmares of the Industrial Revolution.
Currently a loose conglomeration of technological artists and craftspeople, SRL started out as the brainchild of Mark Pauline, the artistic director and ringleader of the group. Since his first machine show in 1979, Pauline and his SRL compatriots—a creative band of machinists, mechanics, welders, and other technical specialists—have used their elaborate creations to critique American consumer and military culture in over 50 shows worldwide.
Understandably, the scale and explosive nature of the group’s art has earned them a reputation among counterculture artists and local fire officials alike. Previous spectacles—including the secretly-hatched 1995 “ Crime Wave”