Zoe Beloff’s "Influencing Machine of Miss Natalija A." is a Flash adaptation of a multimedia installation of the same name created by Beloff in 2001. This web-enabled version combines video, text, audio, and animation to tell the story of Natalija A., a psychiatric patient who was unable to communicate except through writing. Natalija believed that she was being controlled remotely by an “influencing machine,” a mechanical model of her body created by a doctor in Berlin which could be manipulated to control her telepathically. Based on an actual 1919 account of Viennese psychoanalyst Victor Trausk, Beloff’s work contains passages from Trausk’s notebooks, simulated effects of the “diabolical machine,” surrealist footage of medical procedures, and video clips of the actual broadcast technologies that emerged during the early twentieth century to influence populations worldwide.
Beloff’s piece is notable for its interface, which presents itself as a “book,” with weathered, yellow pages complete with faint traces of text bleeding through from their opposite sides. Embedded black and white videos enhance the uncanny feel of the piece, giving the “book’s” diagrams a haunting, hallucinatory mood. The audio of the piece combines soundtracks with the video clips with white noise and whispered recitations, suggesting that the mute Natalija is speaking through the book through supernatural means. The result is an atmosphere that seems faded and esoteric, preserving the enigmatic character of Natalija’s unresolved affliction, her allegation that Trausk himself was under the machine’s evil influence, and his suicide the following year. Taken as a whole, the piece might best be understood as a contemporary manifestation of the literary gothic, where facts and speculations anxiously intersect, and conspiratorial notions flourish.