Zoe Beloff  

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Zoe Beloff
"I create moving images: films, stereoscopic projection performances, and interactive media. I see my work as the production of philosophical toys, objects to think with and through, more or less tangible."

These video clips are excerpts from The Influencing Machine of Miss Natalija A., an interactive video installation:

"Machines produced by man's ingenuity and created in the image of man are unconscious projections of man's bodily structure."
     --Victor Tausk 1919

"Now in this hour, broadcasting is called upon to fulfill its biggest and most sacred mission, to plant the image of the Fuehrer indelibly in all German hearts."
     --Reichssendeleiter Eugen Hadamovsky 1935

In 1919, Victor Tausk, a Viennese psychoanalyst and early follower of Freud, examined a patient - Miss Natalija A., a former philosophy student. Natalija complained to Tausk that a bizarre electrical apparatus, which she believed was operated secretly by physicians in Berlin, was manipulating her thoughts. In his seminal essay "The Influencing Machine", Tausk gave a new interpretation of this common schizophrenic delusion of being persecuted by a machine. He believed that it represented the patient's own body that had become alien and strange to her.

My interactive video installation attempts to materialize Natalija's hallucinations for the participant. I wish to reveal how the fantastic machine imagined by a schizophrenic is not nearly as bizarre as it appears -- instead it might better be regarded as a distorting mirror that reflected back symptomatically yet with uncanny clarity, the crossroads of media technology and psychology at that time.

Very simply my "Influencing Machine", not only represents Natalija's hallucinations but also allude to the development of real influencing machines, in the form of television in Germany. Spurred on by the Nazi propaganda drive, this was the first country to have regular broadcasting well before World War Two.

The installation consists of a large stereoscopic diagram simulating the "Influencing Machine", placed on the floor. Inside it is a small frosted glass panel onto which video images are projected. The participant, wearing red/green stereo glasses, looks down at the diagram. Now they see an actual three dimensional structure. They touch a designated point on this virtual machine with a pointer, all at once moving images appear on the screen, sound blares from the apparatus. They take the pointer away and the projection vanishes. Different points on the machine trigger different movies. From the moment they don the glasses, the participant enters into a virtual world invisible to those around them, very much as one would when actually hallucinating.

Tausk described how the patient believed that this suggestion apparatus produces or removes thoughts by means of waves, rays or mysterious forces. Indeed it was a torture machine. When someone struck the machine she felt a corresponding blow to her body. Through interacting, the participant find themselves viscerally implicated, placed in the position of the sinister physicians/technicians (always male) whom Miss Natalija A. believed were probing her mind.

The participant glimpses Natalija and her world through home movies of Germany in the 1920's and 30's from my own collection. Layered over these images, fragments of the body appear as different parts of the machine are probed, the batteries allude to the viscera, the cathode-ray tube to the breast, the mother's womb, as Natalija regresses before our eyes. Early medical films from the National Medical Library and technical films like "Transmitting Pictures by Wire 1928" are also incorporated. An intense paranoid collage of sound is created; from samples of short-wave "Numbers Stations" believed to be coded Intelligence messages to recordings of Atmospheric and Geomagnetic radio interference as well as popular German songs from the period.

My work deals with the relationship between imagination and the technology of the moving image both in terms of content and through rethinking the apparatus itself. I wish to show that machines are not simply tools, ideologically neutral, but grow out of our deepest unconscious impulses. Just as we both think through our machines, by the same token they structure the limits of our thoughts. "Virtual Reality" is not simply a recent computer technology but has its roots deep in history and hallucination.