and the military” could be redirected to point
out what he saw as the “irony and hypocrisy in
the world.” So he borrowed the name Survival
Research Laboratories from an advertisement in
an old Soldier of Fortune magazine and produced
the first show, a commentary on the oil crisis of
the day, in a gas station parking lot. Titled Machine
Sex, it involved a conveyor belt, a spinning blade,
and quite a few (already) dead pigeons.
“The vision for SRL was always about creepy,
scary, violent, and extreme performances that
really captured the feeling of machines as living
things,” he says.
Only Marginally Acceptable
The small audience of local punks was impressed
and delighted. But most importantly, Pauline
had found his fresh idea. He wouldn’t learn until
years later about kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely,
who constructed an elaborate machine that
destroyed itself in the garden outside New York’s
Museum of Modern Art in 1960.
Three decades later, SRL would stage its own
performance at the groundbreaking ceremony
for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Following the show, one citizen wrote in a letter
to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, “In
Florida, we call it fraud, not art, and we put them
in jail.” Good thing that Pauline had moved out of
Florida long before.
Of course, Pauline knew even before he first
put drill to steel for Machine Sex that SRL’s
activities “would only be marginally acceptable
to people who wanted to live in peace in urban
settings.” Indeed, some of what he planned might
even be downright illegal. That’s why SRL is a
legit, tax-paying company.
“I understood that companies could get away
with things that individuals can’t,” he says.
Still, SRL has earned its reputation as a band of
troublemakers. In 1989, the group made news
after taking credit for a number of mysterious
TNT charges that had been found throughout
San Francisco. The explosives were fake, grabbed
by audience members as unusual souvenirs after
a performance and then littered around the city.
In 1995, after SRL’s Crimewave show at the foot
of the Bay Bridge, Pauline was interviewed in
connection with the Unabomber case. Although
that matter was cleared up quickly, Pauline and a
colleague were arrested and charged with using
explosives and starting a fire unlawfully.
It’s these and a host of other run-ins with fire
departments that have made it nearly impossible for Pauline to stage a performance in San
Francisco. In recent years, though, the group has
packed up flatbed trucks with dozens of tons of
equipment and performed in Austin, Los Angeles,
Phoenix, and other cities in the United States
and abroad. In the 1980s, SRL toured Europe
several times with the support of politically
well-connected art promoters. These promoters
arranged for SRL to have almost unlimited access
to scrap yards, and they squelched any potentially threatening controversies immediately.
“They’re kind of like the art mafia,” he says. In
1999, Pauline and several dozen SRL crew members packed boat-bound shipping containers for
the group’s first large performance in Tokyo. The
show, titled Thoughtfully Regards: The Arbitrary
Calculation of Pathological Amusement, was
sponsored by Japanese telecom behemoth NTT
and held in a public park.
“I’m a Vulture Capitalist”
This kind of support is essentially unheard of in
the United States, Pauline says. Usually, the show
time and location must be a closely guarded
secret until the very last minute to prevent
the authorities from shutting down the event.
Unable to sell advance tickets, Pauline must now
bankroll the shows himself at costs of tens of
thousands of dollars.
“I’m an artist, but I have to live on an executive
salary to do what I do,” he says.
For most of his adult life, Pauline barely paid
rent at the shop, supporting his tool habit by
doing welding and specialized fabrication for
high-tech firms in the Bay Area.
“Normally, the research labs contract out their
freelance work to shops that have all the right
paperwork for things like worker’s comp,”>he>