Anarchy Breathing Robot at the Chelsea Art Gallery

The artist Mark Pauline has a reputation for creating chaos. Over four decades, working under the name Survival Research Laboratories, he has earned a devoted following for pioneering violent, large-scale performances by custom-built machines and robots.

One of those shows might include a flamethrower mounted on a walking frame the size of an elephant, a pile of 20 pianos set ablaze, a menacing claw just the right size to grab a human head in its pincers and a bin full of rotting vegetables.

Now, after years as an art-world outlaw, Mr. Pauline is bringing his machines to the marketplace. This latest project, opening at Marlborough Contemporary on Saturday, will be less pungent but promises to be nearly as spectacular in a white-cube Chelsea gallery.

On the opening day, Mr. Pauline’s “Pitching Machine” will hurl wooden planks at up to 200 miles an hour into a bulletproof containment vessel, where they will disintegrate in calamitous fashion.

Running the Pitching Machine at ACE Auto in SF 2001 Survival Research Labs Video by Genuine Survival Research Labs
The exhibition, “Inconsiderate Fantasies of Negative Acceleration Characterized by Sacrifices of a Non-Consensual Nature,” will also be his first selling show.

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“People have told me that they would be a big art-world phenomenon,” Mr. Pauline said, referring to his creations. “But people have been telling me that since 1979.”


A detail of “Rotary Jaw With Squirrel Eyes.” Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
That was the year he began his idiosyncratic career as a maker of heavy equipment for manufacturing mayhem and a choreographer of bizarre, occasionally unauthorized performances. Animal remains were sometimes incorporated. Explosions, intentional and otherwise, were not uncommon.

The authorities were frequently involved. On YouTube, you can watch video of Mr. Pauline being confronted by a fire marshal after a 1992 performance before a groundbreaking at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Despite the conflict, his safety record is largely intact, with one notable exception: A 1982 explosion in his shop badly wounded Mr. Pauline, taking most of the fingers from his right hand.

An enterprise that began in solitude has grown, and Mr. Pauline has come to work with a number of assistants, largely volunteers.

The creations, mostly built with castoff and recycled materials scavenged from Bay Area factories and corporate labs, have traveled with Mr. Pauline around the world. In 1999, he set up an internet connection to allow users in California to control a machine in Tokyo. And despite the occasionally medieval appearance of his works, he has continually updated them to remain at the leading edge of technology. One machine at the Marlborough gallery, “The Big Walker,” was created in 1986. Another, “Track Robot,” was first built in 1998 and has recently been updated to be controlled via a 3-D Oculus Rift headset.