The Saturday after my first visit to Marlborough Contemporary, Pauline’s Spine Robot (2012–14), with its flailing, articulated claw, squares off against the Running Machine (1992) and other machines in the wintery slush of West 25th Street. A large crowd circles the action as if cheering on some permitless mechanical cockfight. After the herky-jerky battle, the audience pushes its way back inside the gallery. A team member warns passerby not to get to close to Mr. Satan Head (2007), the machine still hot from earlier fire-belching. The gallery is a squall of industrial aroma and noise, much of it unpleasant, most of it courtesy of Squirrel Eyes With Rotating Jaws (1987), a whirring maelstrom of grating metal teeth, ornamented with taxidermied rodents.
Pauline is wearing an olive green, military-style jumper, yelling about entropy into a megaphone. The crew is revving up the Pitching Machine (1997–2017), his D.I.Y. sculpture-weapon that uses a rapidly spinning pair of truck tires to turn wooden planks into projectiles. Prop-master Smythe’s series of handmade “Boogie Bots” are spasming on the floor nearby: pop-eyed skeletons and humanoids, time-consumingly rendered despite their inevitable demise.
Which would be sacrificed first? The audience settles on a hapless skeleton, which is hauled up, awkwardly, via a hitch, and lowered into a rectangular cube that’s roughly the size of a Manhattan bedroom. Pitching Machine is switched into high gear, the tires squealing, and a quiver of planks is loaded into its chamber—soon to be fired at enormous speed into the skeleton sculpture, which does a heroic job of taking all that impact.
Pauline and SRL will continue the process, slowly destroying the bots, and turning Pitching Machine’s receptacle into a graveyard of wood chips and mechanical parts. (The cube itself, and its exploded contents, is for sale.)
The overall vibe is something in between a rock concert and a public execution. It’s unlikely that any other art gallery in Chelsea has ever smelled this strongly of burning rubber.
“We do a lot of work,” Pauline had told me, shrugging, “then go destroy it.”