Creation is the flip side of destruction (original illustration)

Mark Pauline: On The Flip Side Of Destruction

“A professional injector of anarchy,” he calls himself.

More often than not, art is used as a medium to create utopias that would otherwise not exist in reality. It represents ideals better and purer than anything that we could obtain in human life. Art can cure, soothe, and pacify. Thirty something years ago, however, Mark Pauline took a sinister spin on this idyllic outlook of art and assigned it a character and a purpose that are rather difficult to comprehend. His destructive and lethal robots, machines, and exhibits appall at first glance and puzzle after more thought. In fact, he mangled his own hand with one of his art creations. These pieces seem to offer no explicit emotional or tangible value and serve little to no purpose in making life more convenient for anyone. When asked for the purpose of his art, he declares, “I have no point.” Beyond humans, Pauline’s art also seems to be cruel to animals and cause harm to the environment. Although I have no intention of superimposing my interpretations onto Mark Pauline’s motives, every observable fact about his art persistently begs the question, “why?”

In an interview, Pauline said, “I think it’s important that there are professional people working to inject a sense of anarchy into our day-to-day lives.” I took some time to mull over the concept of anarchy and why it has always triggered such an automatic and repulsive sense of disapproval and fear. Finally, I arrived at the conclusion that my fear of anarchy stems from having been on the favored side of the “system” — from a happy family to a good education to a smooth employment, the benefits of the system have treated me well. Disruptions to this system can destroy everything that I own, from things as tangible as a car to those as intangible as pride. To understand the purpose of Pauline’s art, I need to step out of my own, readily accepted frame of thinking. Every truth that I have taken for granted is up for scrutiny and questioning.

Taking a giant step back, I begin to see alternatives to the very foundation of what I was raised on. We live within the protective armor shell of law and order and take for granted the widely accepted notions of right and wrong. However, at the core of it all, law and order are built to protect and enhance the status quo. Private property makes certain that the possession-less will never take from the possession-full. Merit systems ensure that the uneducated will never outperform the highly educated. Unspoken rules establish that employment means respect and wealth means power. All of these are products of social construct, and while they create the foundation of happiness and fulfilment for many, they are nevertheless sustained by the oppression and suffering of others. Despite social efforts of upward mobility and equality, the most effective way for those under the upper hand to loosen the shackles of hierarchy and obtain absolute mobility is through the destruction of the current status quo and the creation of anarchy. From a different perspective, Mark Pauline is very well opening little anarchist windows of hope for the underserved and undervalued.

“If you are living too comfortably, then you are living neglectfully.”

Comfort with the status quo is the first step to being oblivious to the problems of our world. With his art, he conveys the message that if you are living too comfortably, then you are living neglectfully. Pauline’s shows are like an obnoxiously loud reminder of discomfort. Comfort and safety are inherent products of familiarity with rules and boundaries of a certain status quo. If status quo is a binding shackle against equality, then comfort is too. Every time the 8-ton metal arm of his robot comes crashing down to the feet of the audience, it is almost as if the robot is saying, “you think you are protected in the audience box, but don’t be fooled by the rules; I can still hurt you.”

It is much easier to understand Mark Pauline’s work and him as an artist once I got past my assumptions that he was a psycho-maniac. His effort in not labeling his work with any social purpose comes from his despise of the “banality of everything with a ‘point’”. The system taught us to place more value in things with an explained logic and purpose, and Pauline makes art to disturb that very system. While he creates killing machines and symbols of death, he really is seeking to create a personal space to live, and as the name of his workplace, Survival Research Laboratories, suggests, survive.