Survival Research Laboratories: banned in San Francisco

According to Survival Research Laboratories founder Mark Pauline, the pioneering machine performance group has been banned from staging their provocative, brilliant, and awesome spectacles in San Francisco. What a damned shame. From, where you can read Mark's entire statement:

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SRL was recently banned from performing in San Francisco by the SF fire dept. In December 2011, Somarts, a local gallery venue,/arts support organization in the city asked SRL to participate in I am Crime, a show of artists who had been arrested for activities related to their work. The SRL participation was to have included an installation of one machine, the Spine Robot in the gallery and a one day street closure of Brannan Street between 8th and 9th for a short outdoor SRL event at the closing of the installation. The city of SF approved the street closure, but the SFFD, citing an SRL show from 1989 (video evidence above), Illusions of Shameless Abundance stated that SRL would no longer be allowed to perform in San Francisco. This resulted in the outdoor show being called off by Somarts...

SRL banned in San Fran


      1. No. April 14, 1865. Not free since then.

        Or,wait a minute, maybe it was when President Washington put down the whiskey rebellion.

        Hold on, in 1965 the civil rights act was passed. If you were black and alive before 1965 you wouldn’t make such a silly statement about freedom.

  1. I went to one on 4th St in downtown LA one night. Everyone said ‘they can get loud.’ No one adequately warned: ‘they are not inadvertently loud; they try as hard as they can to be loud.’

  2. speaking as someone who was stabbed by a SRL stabbing robot (wanna impress the wife’s second graders, start with “that time I was stabbed by a stabbing robot”). We need to be pushed outside “safe”, as long as we know it is not safe. I knew what I was getting into when I stuck my hand into it. People rarely are put into situations where we feel like we are the little, fragile,  mammals that we are, SLR does a great job. If it frightens you, good.  Be afraid. But then realize we are big, and can do big scary things.
    p.s. the biggest thing the event first aid people were worried about was that I was going to sue… really, I just wanted to stop bleeding. Had to put my own damn bandage on.

      1. technically, it should have been an almost stabbing machine. Mumblypeg? when you stab a knife between your fingers. The robot missed. The little hand outline that it had been running prior to my hand didn’t show any misses, so I thought my odds were good (yes, odds, I’ve working with industrial robots and know they are not perfect, I played the odds). Still, I got a free tee shirt, and my friends got a good story.Years later it still comes up randomly “you remember that time a robot stabbed you?”

  3. I thought this sort of thing peaked in the late 1980s when “American Gladiators” took over the minds of a strident, defiant generation of yoots

  4. I would like to invite SRL to join us up here at Ice Station Zebra: Duluth, Minnesota. To make them feel at home, San Francisco is known as “the Duluth of the west”.

  5. When SF needs the SRL’s help with imminent alien invasion, or zombie hordes,  I hope they feel deep shame before they come begging for the city’s last desperate chance for survival.  

  6. SFFD is so touchy.  Like that time my friend started a giant bonfire in his backyard and burned some furniture and various unpaid bills, we had a VERY angry visit from SFFD and SFPD.

  7. This is what happens when you let the mundanes get a foothold in the City.  Let’s hope that the SFFD doesn’t find the phone number for Barcelona.

      1. There’s also a huge difference between a show run by the pyro experts and random people running around shooting sparks fifty feet high.

        1. A small number of SRL people are serious about fire. Many are not. See the Phoenix show in which a camera crew is slightly burned by the latter type with a flamethrower.

  8. Perhaps Snig is correct.

    Perhaps the rulers of SF have become aged and lumbering and slow and overfed and AFRAID.  You might be much more appreciated if you changed venues,  taking your money,  technology,  danger,  loud noises and ingenuity elsewhere.  Perhaps Detroit.  Or Cleveland.  Or Osaka.  Or somewhere in China.  
    The questions are:
    Who rules SF?
    How much time does one want to spend fighting bureaucrats rather than building glorious machines?

    In response to Jerryeast,  it was merely downscaled a bit for the sensitives.  there was a fine British cable show called ‘Robot Wars’,  where hobbyists would build machines somewhat smaller than the srl megatrons and FIGHT IT OUT.i can say no more.

    1. “Robot Wars” always reminded me of that obscure episode of  “Thunderbirds” where all the marionettes set fire to each other and everything exploded.

    2. Who rules SF?

      1. the judges who interpret the city charter
      2. The mayor
      3. The city supes

      SF is a representative democracy, not a mob.

      1. I would argue that all of California and SF with its notoriously permissive initiative process is more akin to rule by a mob of children than a representative democracy.

  9. Nothing cool has happened in San Francisco since just before I moved here in 1997.

    But in defense of the SFFD, large swaths of this city are closely-packed wooden structures built on top of the ashes of an earlier city.   I have read that excavation projects occasionally dig into buried debris that STILL smells of smoke,  105 years later.

    1. Very true about fire hazard.

      But if nothing cool has happened in SF since just before you moved here, would you mind moving away? You might be the cause.

  10. It’s great that video from the 1985 show (with the flame-throwing walking machine controlled by Stu, the guinea pig) is now on YouTube!

  11. “Ah, no way. The man harshin’ our buzz, brah. Down with the man, they hate art, those art haters, man.”

    Would a change of venue keep the show alive? If so, cool. There’s gotta be a compromise somewhere between them and the SFFD.

  12. I went to the SRL show in SF under a highway onramp. They’d built a huge pile of pianos up against a pillar, and had a machine full of gasoline shooting flames at it. (After the show, the pillar would have to be replaced because it was greatly weakened by the heat.)

    The machine was leaking a huge pool of gas, and spectators were standing in it because:
    1) the official seating, a tiny collection of bleacher seats, was full, and
    2) a Sonic Cannon was pummeling these seats from close range.

    I’d brought a box of earplugs, because most people hadn’t realized that they were necessary equipment for an SRL show. They were still insufficient. The site was surrounded by chain-link fencing — I wondered if people could escape any inevitable disaster.

    Let me make this pretty clear: I am not the biggest SRL fan out there, but I’m no namby-pamby wimp. I sincerely believe that Mark Pauline would be perfectly happy if his machines maimed or killed people, because I’ve met him, and shaken what’s left of his hand.

    It is unreasonable for SRL to expect to be invited back to any venue: saying “we’ve been banned” is a form of advertising for them.

    If you go to a show:
    1) Bring earplugs AND over-the-ear muffs.
    2) Wear safety glasses, sturdy boots, and protective clothing.
    3) Make sure you know how to escape WHEN something goes horribly wrong. It will.

    1. 1. Pauline does NOT want to hurt people. You are wildly wrong. This would make his living, finances, and work impossible. He does want to scare people.

      2. Things have never gone horribly wrong during an SRL show. They have gone pretty bad AFTER the show for the crew, but that’s another matter.

      The rest of your post I don’t have a problem with. SRL crew are volunteers: some very capable, others not so much.

    1. SFFD has been given the authority to render judgement on these things. Fire in an enclosed space in a hilly city built of wood houses packed close invites caution.

      1. Yes, they can prohibit a particular performance after determining that the performance will present a danger.

        But they cannot prohibit all future performances by SRL, without any analysis of whether the particular performance will present a danger.  Maybe the substance of this post is inaccurate, but from what it says, SRL would be prohibited from giving a poetry reading in San Francisco.  That’s not constitutional.

        1. True. SRL and SFFD have a long history, some coordinated, some not.

          Read the more complete SRL statement at I’d like to read an SFFD statement on this. rather one sided at the moment.

          And to all those saying “come to Detroit” etc., see the site too. As soon as Detroit FD calls SFFD, they’ll shut it down. The real news story here is not that SRL can’t get a show in SF, it’s that it has trouble getting a show anywhere.

    2. Because it’s a public danger.  It’s absurd to think that you have to wait for a catastrophe when you have ample warning and reason to expect one.  That’s not, and never has been, how public safety works.

      1. See my comment above. They can ban a particular performance after assessing that performance and determining it’s a danger. But they can’t ban a particular group from ever pitting on a performance regardless of the nature of the performance without any individual assessment whatsoever. According to this article, srl would be banned from reading poetry in public just because it’s srl. That’s not how the first amendment works.

  13. I am a member of the SFFD, and I do not approve of this message.

    What with the advent of sprinkler systems and smoke detectors, building codes and the insidious forces of gentrification; there’s not enough fires in this town!

    I personally would support as many carnage-inducing mechanicals as SRL can manufacture; preferably rampaging around Noe Valley (where my station is)

    I could use the work…

  14. I was at that ’89 show and it was incredible. What was most amazing was people’s faith in the safety of the machines. The SRL folks knew better and always stood behind them, even then, they weren’t completely certain what would happen. I worked with a couple of people who wrote the software for SRL’s first computer-controlled robot (the Big Arm made from a converted backhoe) which is why I went to the show in the first place since they couldn’t stop talking about it. The big flamethrower had to be shut down since it was leaking fuel into the crowd. The tree shredder tipped upward was spraying nasty shredded chunks of rotten food at the crowd. I stood on the sidelines, ready to move at a moment’s notice. I even ran into someone I knew from college who was so terrified and freaked out she had to leave. The show started with Sousa marches and the other audio you can hear is a scanner hacked to pick up cell phone conversations. Those are real (delayed) cell phone conversations. The final bit, burning the stack of about 20 pianos strapped to the freeway support is what the SFFD probably had a problem with. There was so much smoke roiling on to I-80 that they had to stop traffic for a while until the smoke cleared.
    It was one hell of a show. I think I have an old VHS tape of it somewhere at home which also includes them taking this show to Europe and more hijinks.
    SRL – artists and pranksters for sure.
    Interesting that someone mentioned William Gibson. My understanding is there is a character in Mona Lisa Overdrive based on Mark Pauline.
    That misshaped hand of his was caused by a rocket accident. They grafted part of his foot on to his hand.

  15. Mr. Pescovitz, thanks for your spreading the word on this. 

    I’m wondering if you can ask Mr. Pauline or Somarts or SFFD to produce some documentary evidence that,
    “… the SFFD, citing an SRL show from 1989, Illusions of Shameless Abundance stated that SRL would no longer be allowed to perform in San Francisco. This resulted in the outdoor show being called off by Somarts.”

    I think it would inform the conversation.  Sorry, if this is out of line.  I guess I don’t know if you consider yourself a reporter or more of a news aggregator.  This whole thing makes SFFD look quite petty. 

    Having witnessed the preparations for the funerals of the two firemen who died last June, I can assure you that they don’t take the deaths of their own as a small matter.

    Someone who would rather stay anonymous.

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