[Renaissance Events]


You're Under Arrest
America's Most Explosive Performance Group
Goes to Court

Photographs by Marla Aufmuth


The diabolical machinery of Survival Research Labs is a "physicist's wet dream," in the words of founder Mark Pauline. For two decades, the performance group's metal monsters - some the size of semis, with iron claws and WWII rocket motors for mouths - have been ramming into each other, clawing apart dead cows, and breathing fire for happy, twisted audiences.

[Mark Pauline]
SLR founder Mark Pauline (center and far right) says his mighty metal monsters are being banished from performing in San Francisco.

Pauline's genius has cost him. His hand was mangled in an explosion in his workshop in 1982, and a 1990 Bible Burn show in Lewiston, New York, was censored when Pat Robertson and other members of the Religious Right condemned it as an outrage. Still, not one of the group's 25 core members has ever been arrested for their pyrotechnics. Until now.

On 11 March, Pauline and SRL manager Mike Dingle will go to a pretrial hearing to address charges that, according to Pauline, will make it almost impossible for them to mangle heavy metal in their hometown of San Francisco. Their arrests came in connection with the 26 November Crime Wave show, an extravaganza of hip heavy artillery, with live Internet and audio feed. The show - financed by Pauline's credit cards - featured a jumping, exploding Unabomber puppet and an Armored Attack Helicopter, as well as a bound-and-gagged Execution Guy.

The charges (unlawful open burning and use of explosive materials) will probably be dropped in exchange for community service, because it's a first-time offense. For these cash-starved performers, however, this is more than a slap on the wrist. SRL can't afford the pricey permits required by the San Francisco fire department, so the group is effectively banished from home. Says Pauline, "We won't be able to do the shows we're accustomed to doing and we're known for. Period."

Angry but not defeated, Pauline says that he'll take SRL on the road to other states and countries. "Most artists would rather do a painting, write a book, or do some computer graphics, because you don't have to worry about machines and a lot of complicated technology," he says. "But people like myself like taking risks. We like involving other people in those risks. Most people don't think they can provoke the wrath of the gods and get away with it."

Though SRL shows can get a little scary, today's climate of intolerance and lack of support for experimental or provocative art is even scarier. We asked Dezso Molnar, an SRL engineer who creates the robot jet engines, to re-create what you missed at Crime Wave, in all its fiery glory.

Crime Wave

Audio/Video page

Discuss the arrest of Survival Research Labs.

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