Survival Research Labs (SRL) turns 30 today

Survival Research Laboratories, the legendary machine performance project that started it all, turns 30 today. Founder Mark Pauline has a blog post up about this milestone, with a copy of SRL's first-ever ad, above. Mark says,

Id like to thank all those who have helped me make SRL what it is, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Im still having a blast. Even moving all 160 tons of my stuff to the new shop in Petaluma has been kind of fun. In a few more weeks, Ill be totally out of here and SRL will lurch into the next 30 year chapter. 2038 here we come!
A huge congrats and deepest respect to Mark, the SRL team, and their respective family members -- the meat-based kind, but also the magical metal machines who are the real stars of SRL. On behalf of all Boingdom, we wish all of you another 30 years of happy mutancy.

For BoingBoing readers not familiar with SRL, here's how they describe what they do:

Survival Research Laboratories was conceived of and founded by Mark Pauline in November 1978. Since its inception SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians 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 45 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.

Below, an early photograph featuring Mark Pauline with one of his first creations. Performance artist Karen Finley and V. Vale of RE/Search Publications are among the bemused onlookers. (thanks, K0re!)


  1. I was first introduced to SRL through the RE/Search book Industrial Culture handbook. I must have read it 1,000 times. I was always fascinated by Mark Pauline and his Meat/ Machine projects. I would love to make a trip up to SF to see a show in person, now that I am in LA.

    Much respect!

  2. I’ve been lucky enough to attend an SRL show in San Jose back in 2006. It was quite an experience. Strange and fascinating in that train wreck kind of way. I walked away dumbfounded. I remember thinking, “What was that I just saw?” (Not that this was a bad thing by any means.)

    I wish they’d have some more shows. I understand getting all the necessary permits is getting harder and harder.

    Highly recommend it for the hipster geek in you. :)

  3. I lived in a warehouse a few doors down from SRL in the early 1990’s. Mark had an Earthquake machine that he fired up on one of the anniversaries of the ’89 quake — we felt the vibrations of the machine down the block. Once Mark was preparing to give a lecture to a bunch of scientists at a national laboratory convention. He’d made a cannon that would shoot swift packets of air and he wanted to fire it into the audience at the lecture attendees during his presentation. He tested the thing out on me first and my job was to tell him when the blasts of air became spherical. It was always a treat to go visit SRL and hear about the latest ideas as they were being developed.

    One of the most phenomenal things I have EVER had the pleasure of beholding was at a show they did beneath the freeway at 3rd and Stillman in the late 80’s/early 90’s. A large, inefficient walking steel table (made of I-beams) came spastically crawling through the madness and finally approached a giant wall of old pianos — must’ve been 30-50 of them. As it drew close enough it began to spew forth a plasma of fire as big as a couple of cars. It set the wall of pianos on fire and it was so beautiful as they roared and twanged into oblivion.

    The culture that SRL spawned made a deep impact on this city (SF) — especially important during a time when the world was well on it’s way to becoming corporatised.

  4. It is interesting that for all of their ‘underground’ cred that they had in the 90s etc – so little is to be found about them online today.

    They must still be very ‘underground’ when there’s not even a working torrent of their videos!

    SRL is still waaay cool, tho :-)

  5. November 24th? Right between Jonestown (November 18) and the assasination on Mayor Moscone ans Supervisor Milk (November 27). Man, SF must’ve been a pretty weird place to be at the time.

  6. As an incredibly bored kid in Michigan, I owe all the thanks in the world to V.Vale for opening my eyes and my world to everything that RE/Search Pubs did- through the magic of ink-on-paper, and Vale’s relentless dedication to documenting all the weirdness that he has over the years.

    I also owe a huge debt to Mark “selling out” by doing a video of the SRL Jaws, for MTV… sometime in the mid-80’s. I remember so clearly seeing that video for the first time when I was 12, and my gut impression that it was both the most terrifying and beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Thanks then to Vale, I was able to go to my local bookstore and do some huntin’… and the rest is history.

    It’s been a rare and special treat as an adult, having the opportunity to work with the artist I worshiped as a kid. I can only hope that many more wide-eyed kids yet to grow-up and disillusionedly bail on their small-town roots, have similar opportunities in years to come.

    Thanks for hangin’ in all these years, Mark (and Vale!)- I’m excited for what the next several years have in store. And thanks to BB and all the other documentarians of “weird stuff,” for giving hope to other bored & isolated smalltown kids, worldwide. :)

  7. It seems like just yesterday our hair was jet black, now we are gray and we wait to see if our kids will want our junk. Zolie and I hung the flag today.

    Come to our party to see what we have become and play with Santas.

  8. Just the other day, I found an old issue of American Music Press, from March of ’93, that features an excellent interview with Mark Pauline.

  9. Grey hair??…What happened to all my hair?!?!

    Heck I used to have hair when I pitched in at my first SRL show.

    30 Years…quite a legacy…congrats Mark!

    I wrote the phrase

    “It’s complicated! – 30 Years of SRL” on both my hands to remember the years of sweat and celebrations!

  10. haha! I’ve got “it weighs 150 lbs.” on one hand and “it’ll take 5 minutes” on the other… who’s up for a bowl of Dinglecorn?

  11. Time to haul out “The Rainbow Stories” by William T. Vollman so I can re-read “The Violet Engineers”.

  12. TX is the place.

    Mark and Co. need to head on out here to the Lone Star State…where we have enough land for them to do what they do without bothering anybody.

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