Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is not actually a laboratory that researches how to survive, but is rather a hard-to-categorize performance art project that resembles a circus. The circus in question, however, does not entertain with elephants, tigers, or trapeze artists; here, the performers are all robots. Huge, smelly, grease-covered robots.
Since its inception in 1978, SRL’s founder Mark Pauline has worked with many collaborators, including established artists like Matt Heckert, Leslie Gladsjo, Kal Spelletich, Ken Goldberg, and a long list of welders, mechanics, tinkerers, and scientists. Under Pauline’s direction they stage large-scale sensational “machine art performances,” of which there have been over 55 to date.
Back in the early 1980s, when Pauline originally came to San Francisco, he discovered one could rent a whole warehouse for just $150. Seeing an opportunity, he settled into a space in the Mission district. SRL immediately began designing and producing machines that look like repurposed vehicles from Mad Max or liberated Mars Rovers. As the machines accumulated, the shows began.