A Robot Ate a Pig Carcass (Among Other Weird Happenings) in Downtown L.A. Last Weekend

This happened last weekend in L.A.
This happened last weekend in L.A.
Karen Marcelo

If you really want to see a festival that deals with the extremities of the future, any retirement home will do.

The 2nd Extreme Future Festival, which took place over two days at the L.A. Center Studios this past weekend, focused on arts and technology produced by "radical voices of the new evolution." It was in fact two days of strobe light, slam poetry and lectures on the sorry state of a world, all transfixed on fixed points in the future that, to the presenters, matter more than the crumminess of the "now."

It was also to closest thing to a reunion of the minds behind the groundbreaking industrial music and performance art book Industrial Culture Handbook from Re/Search publications, with V. Vale, Naut Humon (Rhythm & Noise), Sinan (SPK) and Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) all making various appearances over two tumultuous, chaotic days.

Vendors manned tables and guest speakers (Brian Doherty, Anastasia Krylov, Lydia Lunch) lectured in the Vortex Immersioni Dome, a geodesic structure outside that shed the pissing rain, a rather fitting present-day affliction that extended to plastic sheeting covering the SRL machines, while heels both proverbial and actual were cooled in the cordoned-off expanse of Boylston Street outside. It was nothing if not reminiscent of the plastic on expensive furniture gracing many a grandmother's living room.

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Downtown Los Angeles on the cusp of 2013 doesn't give us Blade Runner -- the real future, apparently here and unfortunately now, lies in real estate. The future is a convalescent home for the privileged and ideas that no one wants to retire. The most compelling, immediate moment comes when the peerless Lisa Bufano -- whose feet and fingers were amputated after illness at age 21 -- affixes wooden prostheses like an Amish cyborg and slowly gets to her feet on a stage in a beautiful moment that feels like it was drawn by the animator Winsor McCay, as a captivated audience stands drenched in drones and feedback. But is this futurism, or pragmatism? Extremities indeed.

It's funny how much of the future involves waiting around. SRL -- an organization whose avowed purpose is "dangerous and disturbing mechanical presentations" -- don't go on until 9 p.m., but by then there are hundreds of people standing on the overpass and in the office buildings and on the streets to view the group's looming spectacle.

Some elements, beyond the ones falling from the skies: a hanging red neon skull, splayed pig carcasses trussed to metal frames and cardboard shanties waiting ominously at one end of the killing field that Boylston rapidly becomes. A man-sized cylinder around which is stretched an image of an old sick Judy Garland weeble-wobbles on its convex base, and after a half-hour wait, a mobile claw machine rolls out to visit the cylinders, examining them like the most hellish possible Martian rover while the growing sound of bombers and air-raid sirens assaults the crowd.

From one of the clapboard structures bursts another machine: a skeletal elephantine walker with a windowpane on its ass. Cylinders fill with fire and smoke belches out into the crowd as one of the pig carcasses is burnt to blackening by another fire-spitting machine. A little RC robot scoots through the destruction, deploying a circular saw blade that cuts poor Judy down, shredding her for good measure.

A rolling robot with iron pincers lining its vertical mouth erupts from the other structure and eviscerates one of the pigs and the entire mad scene is punctuated by the Shockwave Cannon, a giant stationary device that "forms vortex rings of air and projects the rings at high speeds." It almost does one of the SRL technicians in -- he thoughtlessly steps in front of it to steer away a hovercraft that's being propelled by red-hot rods before he's pulled quickly away from the line of fire by the quick thinking of another SRL tech. This is like one of those clubs the character Stefon is always talking about on Saturday Night Live.

If Survival Research Technologies teaches us anything about the future, it is that it is meant to be survived, that research is not always as boring as it should be and that the oldest technology -- the human perception of time -- can be hacked so that thirty minutes, under the proper violent frightening circumstances, can in fact feel like thirty whole minutes. Not the ten minutes it might ordinarily feel like because we feel like we've seen it all before.

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