Survival Research Laboratories
A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief (1988)
Directed by Jon Reiss

A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief (1988) is typical of SRL's work in all respects except one: it's a filmed, rather than public, event, shot at the SRL "lab." Pauline and director Jon Reiss might have preceded the piece with a disclaimer: "No humans were harmed in the making of this piece," something that can't be said about their other works. The piece opens in a creepy cavern, with a shot of one of several "panimals," this one a mechanically driven skeleton head that looks like a giant bird or perhaps buffalo. A kind of malevolent god figure, it furiously, relentlessly attacks a ragged rodent-like creature, smashing it into walls, running over it, but also dipping it into a mysterious pool that could signify drowning or, in the complex world on display, a more benevolent baptism. Like all SRL machines, this monster groans and creaks with the cries of distressed humanity, but it's impossible not to also read the tormented rodent in the same way, as a metaphor for beleaguered humankind in a hopeless world. This work mocks the repeated rituals for which robots were originally designed, as they engage in more violent but equally wrenching variants on the myth of Sisyphus