Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chinatown Survival Research Labs

The aftermath of last year's SRL show.
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.
Last year, I wrote about the telerobotic pyrotechnic mayhem that was the Survival Research Labs show in Los Angeles at Dangerous Curve. That show ended with the arrival of the L.A.F.D., who looked at the aftermath of the show in stunned disbelief. I was floored by that performance, but sadly I suspected it may have been the end of SRL in L.A.

Fortunately, Survival Research Labs was back in the City of Angels yesterday, this time in Chinatown in a space outside of Fringe Exhibitions. My brother drove down from SF and we headed over to the show around 6:00. We watched the artists preparing for the show; ominously, there were sacks of strange fluids being loaded into even stranger devices, a humanoid figure composed of dead fish, and warnings from the safety crew that we might get splattered with "something". But I didn't give up my primo spot, even after the crew made us stand three feet back from the plywood crowd barrier with the admonishment that it might fall onto us during the show!
Preparations for the SRL show

The show finally started around 8:00; once again, it was intensely terrifying, although not quite on the scale of the April show. After all, the show was in a parking lot adjacent to an occupied apartment building! It's useless to try to describe the entirety of the chaos, but these are the images that stuck out for me:
  • The sneaky soldiers, which are squirming telerobotic humanoids that serve mostly as targets.
  • A giant styrofoam lizard head which drooled fish guts as it rose above the crowd. It also had a harpoon that pierced and mauled at the dead-fish humanoid.
  • The return of the pulsejet hovercraft. Pulsejets are giant propane-powered trumpets that pump out a noise so loud that it serves as the vehicle's propulsion device!
  • A robot with a giant claw and a set of off-centered flywheels that allowed it to grab a target and vibrate the hell out of it.
  • An enormous flamethrower on a forklift. This eventually was used to immolate the lizard head into a mass of molten sytrofoam. (I noticed that the forklift was a rental.)
  • Two barrels filed with some sort of milky-white fluid and hundreds of small humanoid beanbag dolls--and an automotive airbag in the bottom. The exploding airbag expelled the disgusting doll soup sky-high and into the crowd.
  • Walker-bot smash!
    The six-legged walker-bot. This thing moves with alarming speed, and makes erratic moves. In this show, the walker bot went out of control into the crowd barriers, pushing them back into the crowd! I think this was partially planned, but the bot continued to lunge at the crowd again and again until we had been pushed back about twenty feet, and the robot handlers ran over to shut it down. Once again, I got the feeling that unlike most sanitized experiences in our modern life, this time we were actually in serious physical danger.
Part of the metallic-looking humanoid.
After the demolishion was complete, the artists allowed the crowd to walk around the performance space. They also flung some of the dolls and dead fish into the crowd--gee, thanks! The artists talked with the crowd and each other about the performance. (One funny moment: one of the safety crew saw a hand reach out from the crowd and touch the hovercraft, and he quickly asked, "Please don't touch the hovercraft." He had to sheepishly smile when the response came back, "I built it!") The vehicles were still radiating heat; smoldering piles of rubbish littered the ground, and the lizard head dangled molten plastic cobwebs.

Given the proximity to the apartment buildings, I was somewhat amazed that the authorities never showed up--but I guess it's Chinatown, Jake. I have some poorly lit photos of the show on Flickr, but I think the insanity of the show is best captured by the grainy videos I took of the show:
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