When was the last time you had to jump a fence for art? Or stand on a dilapidated building that was in danger of collapsing to get a good view of a performance? When was the last time you had dolls and dead fish thrown at you? Such was my luck Saturday night. And I mean luck. I loved every stinkin’ minute of it.
Fellow Style Councilor Steffie and I had headed to Chinatown’s Chung King Road to catch the latest Survival Research Labs show at Chinatown’s Fringe Exhibitions. Inside the gallery, we checked out various robots (one armored with an actual decaying pit bull) and watched videos of old SRL shows dreamed up by founder Mark Pauline and his band of machine artists. But these don’t hold a flamethrower to being there live, so we headed to a nearby parking lot where the true action was happening. When Steffie suggested we try to get on the balcony of the abandoned building above the roped-off parking lot, I half-heartedly agreed to humor her. But racing down dark alleys, past others who had a similar notion, gave me such giddy satisfaction that when faced with the 8-foot, chain-link fence, I didn’t hesitate for a second to climb it in my new boots.
We nestled into the perfect spot, and all of us who made it onto the creaking balcony weighed the very real possibility of its breaking, along with our bones. But unanimously we decided it was okay, enabling one another like kids trading candy bars at fat camp.
Below us, all hell was breaking loose. Robots dubbed Sneaky Soldiers crawled across the lot in full invasion mode. One with huge pinchers lunged toward the onlookers, stopped only by the wooden barricades. Screams rose from the crowd. The machines, which had undergone repairs after their debut battle at downtown’s Dangerous Curve last spring, fought each other with ferocious intent. All the while a noise that sounded like it came straight from the pit of hell raged on. (If you’ve ever been to a county fair, you might think it sounds like a tractor pull.)
It was dark. A giant dragon-dinosaur thing stabbed the head of a robot man, aka Leaf Man, writing at his desk under a skin of greenish, metallic foliage, and we watched from our perch like Roman emperors at a gladiator contest, delighting in the carnage, reveling in the wreckage.
Robots carrying red-hot irons broke through the barricade and threatened to singe the crowd. Then came what we thought could only be gasoline spraying upon us as the flamethrowers menaced. But then they turned and lit the dragon-dinosaur robot’s head ablaze, setting off explosions, smoke, destruction. Fish heads were tossed at us, and little white dolls, soaked in parking-lot grime, flew up over the rail. We each caught one. Never have I had more fun feeling like I was in mortal danger.
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