ACE Across, part of Adelaide’s new contemporary art space ACE Open, is not quite finished in a way that perfectly accommodates Emmaline Zanelli’s solo show RIFE MACHINE. There are some gaps in the white cube that hint at the real world outside and allow us to see the staginess of the space. Zanelli’s work feels at once like oversharing and concealment: things are opened up and things are papered over.
The photographs that constitute Little Death (Mr Whippy), 2016, and Private Routine, 2016, a video screened on an iPhone, are tacked to the wall with staples and duct tape. Next to these, large format framed photographs are slickly presented, amplifying Zanelli’s play between truth and illusion, art and intimate ritual.
The RIFE MACHINE of the exhibition’s title refers to the medical device invented by Dr Royal Rife in the 1920s, which he claimed could cure cancer with energy rays. Zanelli’s use of multiple photographic images also operates in a realm of intensified frequencies. In the installation, PUPPY, 2017, a red-filtered light illuminates a small room filled with repeated images of canine teeth and gums. The effect is a vibrating tessellation of the image, shining and sharp. Here the power is not in the individual photograph but the auratic quality of the entire room. It could be a shrine to the true wild nature of a puppy, here revealed in the details of its ancient wolf DNA.
In some ways, Rife’s experiments in microscopy and cinema are more relevant to Zanelli’s works. An article in Popular Science Magazine, 1931, claims that Rife was “a pioneer in the art of making motion pictures of the microscopically small.” Zanelli’s photographs of repeated, overlapping images of human tissue, scabs and internal organs have the intensity and queasy effect of a slide full of swarming germs. The photograph, Red Room (Safe House), 2017, is an externalised view of the body’s deep private spaces. A figure (the artist) is covered with glossy images of the spaces within her own body. She stands in a room which is also plastered with these images. A metallic surgical instrument is visible in the multiple photographs, but while this work depicts medical invasion, the artist insistently reclaims her own agency.
Who else is under the microscope in Zanelli’s RIFE MACHINE, or as Popular Science asks, “Whence come the actors in these strange movies?” In presenting explorations of the physical, psychological and emotional spaces between herself and her siblings, friends and lovers, Zanelli asks those close to her to relinquish control and participate in obscure rituals and rites of passage. She creates surreal scenarios in which the subjects are acted upon by the artist, in ways that often appear uncomfortable. In the photo In 20 Yrs Time, 2016, a figure in a green shroud sits in a boat built from images of a wound. The situation is precarious as the boat is buffeted by a jagged blue sea.
Transcendence and the everyday are thrown together in the exhibition, RIFE MACHINE. Like the figure in Baptism_RaptorRide_WellnessCentre_Jacuzzi (Float Room), 2016, who sits in a homemade Jacuzzi constructed entirely from photos of sparkling water, we are here suspended in Zanelli’s intensified, destabilised space.