Mapping Geographies and Other Endeavours
Since the four components of the three projects in ∂ Topological Landscapes were exhibited in 2015 as a multisensory environment in Cologne, Germany, at least three other artists have incorporated Rife’s research into their practice. Australian photographer Emmaline Zanelli’s RIFE MACHINE (2016–18), shown at ACE Open in Adelaide, featured images of figures in spaces tiled with printed photographs of the same images of figures in spaces. Because of the repetition of prints and images, Zanelli’s environments look like vibrating spaces that transport the audience ‘somewhere else’ (Zanelli, 2018). Zanelli uses the word ‘rife’ in two ways: first, she uses the adjective meaning ‘unchecked or widespread’ to refer to the proliferation of images that surround us; second, as a reference to a Rife machine she encountered in alternative treatment during a period of illness. Zanelli’s work is a metaphor for the proposition that the Rife machine can cure diseases by transmitting frequencies through the human body, as if we could use images to inoculate ourselves against images.
The music performance The Body Electric (2019), by Hong Kong-based sound artist Xper.Xr, used the idea of healing frequencies at Hong Kong’s Empty Gallery to present a healing session during the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests against the controversial Extradition Law Amendment Bill. Xper.Xr’s performance was realised using RifeTech instruments made by a Czech company. These instruments use a cathode ray tube and an oscillator device, components similar to those in Rife’s original Beam Ray Clinical Instrument. The performance was realised in the dark ambient space of the gallery in a former industrial building, where people gathered to heal and reflect. As the gallery stated in its press release, ‘it is with this perhaps naive wish to create a space for emotional and psychic healing that we asked Hong Kong artist and musician Xper.Xr. to organize The Body Electric’ (Empty Gallery, 2021). Xper.Xr accompanied his performance with a series of talks, one of which briefly discussed Rife’s instruments, but mostly using information readily available through platforms like Wikipedia. Unlike Zanelli, Xper.Xr seemed more interested in the power of the idea of pseudoscience than in metaphor.
Lastly, in her artist talk (2020) at the Graham Foundation in Chicago, American musician Whitney Johnson discussed her interest in the healing aspect of audio frequencies, presenting research on sounds and technologies that produce bodily responses (Graham Foundation, 2020). The description of Johnson’s talk mentions Rife’s name in the context of his claim that his Beam Ray Clinical Instruments could, as Johnson explains, ‘explode the ‘BX Virus Carcinoma’ and other pathogens by producing a resonant frequency at their ‘mortally oscillating rates’’ (Graham Foundation, 2020). Again, here the interest is in the broader notion of the human body’s reaction to frequencies, not specifically the case of Rife. Besides these instances of interest in Rife by artists from various geographies, there are several companies that sell devices like the RifeTech all around the world. All of these examples — artists and companies — show the post-internet condition of Rife’s research and the manner in which everyday mediatisation by the internet continues circulating Rife’s work, marking his instruments as a global phenomenon.
Research for ∂ Topological Landscapes on Rife’s instruments was conceived through fieldwork at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, San Diego, and the Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles, as well as at the Science Museum in London. The 2012 performance at LACE responded to the context of Southern California, where the entertainment industry and interest in new religious movements meet science and technology. The invitation to perform at LACE started the three-year process of mapping Rife’s experiments. At this time in San Diego, it was already clear that the locations where Rife was working had almost no memory of the research that was supposedly developed at the Scripps cottages, now the location of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The surrounding area in La Jolla is one of the biggest biotechnology hubs of the United States, which hosts various start-ups and privately funded research backed by venture capitalists. The early articles on Rife from The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune indicate Rife’s research as pioneering in the beginnings of this neoliberal market around scientific exploration. However, without memory or archive, the evidence has moved from the local to the global electronic archive of the internet, where things have no physical forms, traces, and localities, but rather everything is caught in a changeable blur.
Conclusion: An art of refusal
Research on Rife’s instruments was an occasion to rethink the art-science binary from the perspective of an inventor whose ambiguous objects could find no place: neither science nor art. It aimed to make something visible, sonic, and touchable from this alienated position. The intense tracking and realignment process was only possible because the new standard of visual perception mediated through digital technologies permitted the modelling and fabrication of reproductions. The materialities and functions of these reproductions are a means to explore the hidden epistemologies of Rife’s instruments. ∂ Topological Landscapes orbits around aspects of Rife’s work that were never taken into consideration when the instruments were inspected as objects of scientific evidence. It instead lingers in neglected details, with an eye noting the fraudulent use and pseudo-scientific aspects inherent to Rife’s research, yet still seeing it as something beyond a hoax.
For this reason, the use of correct historical details is important. The analysis of these details required understanding the history of technical instruments from the field of natural sciences and involved the media archaeology of photography, cinema, and instruments of sound reproduction. However, media archaeology is not only about looking at the historical timeline of media instruments. Rather, its methodology insists that we ‘do not seek the old in the new, but find something new in the old.’ (Zielinski 2006, 3).
When the research was exhibited, visitors showed serious interest in the healing aspect of the radio frequencies, although the intention of the research was never to suggest that the art itself aimed to heal the audience with the use of audio frequencies. The possibility that art can be a kind of healing method is accepted in certain circumstances, but why does art seem to gain a special status in this regard? Anything can be therapeutic; the idea that only art is capable of such is a mystification of the concept. It is more interesting to think that Rife’s ambiguous instruments can have a second life in art, continuing to exist outside of the scientific world. In this way, one can, perhaps, think that these instruments have a special property to heal themselves in a world of fixed binaries (i.e., art and science) that they refuse.
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