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PHX [X is for Xylonite] [2019]

Single channel film, 12 min 54 sec, 16mm film transferred to digital and 3D animation, colour / black and white, stereo

PHX [X is for Xylonite] presents a series of orbiting three-dimensional images of natural and semi-synthetic plastic objects, made through laser scanning and photogrammetry techniques. These are collaged with hand-processed black and white 16mm film footage, which includes a demolition on the site of the original Parkesine factory in Hackney Wick, where the first semi-synthetic plastic was invented. Both flickering, contingent materials allude to the history of cellulose nitrate - in particular, 'Xylonite' - in the development of photography and film as, until the mid-century shift to acetate, it was used as the base for film stock, and elsewhere to build props in film production. Extracts from Roland Barthes' essay 'Plastics' (in his book Mythologies, 1957), colour experiments listed in a British Xylonite Company laboratory formula book (c.1888) and symptoms of plastics degradation, of 'crazing', 'yellowing' and 'bloom', are read by Dr. Miriam Wright, scientist and laboratory technician. The soundtrack proposes a warped love song between the organic and synthetic, where the human voice and recordings in shellac - the lacquer obtained from the secretion of the Coccus Lacca insect - are transformed through a vocoder. Although Barthes suggests that plastic “embodies none of the genuine produce of the mineral world: foam, fibres, strata”, in PHX, plastics are proposed as strata; so that the layers that make up the film - its emulsion and plastic substrate - are made evident; like the material seams of plastic that will, in future sedimentary rock layers, signal our Anthropocene era and its flawed capitalist productions.

16mm and edit: Frances Scott; Photogrammetry and 3D animation: Phil Coy; Composition and sound design: Chu-Li Shewring; Voice: Dr. Miriam Wright; Film processing with Bea Haut, Film in Process.

Thanks to: Bow Arts Trust: Sophie Hill, Saphia Venner, Natasha Vicars; Phil Coy; James Coore; Joyce Cronin; Film in Process: Bea Haut; Hackney Archives; Harold and Phil Mernick; Museum of Design in Plastics, Arts University, Bournemouth: Louise Dennis, Professor Susan Lambert, Katherine Pell; Plastics Historical Society library, Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining: Frances Perry; Science Museum, London: Susan Mossman, Helen Peavitt; Christine Scott; Chu-Li Shewring; Suffolk Archive; University College London: Dr. Katherine Curran, Dr. Miriam Wright (Institute of Sustainable Heritage); Romain Meunier, Necole Schmitz, George Walker (Institute of Making); Ellie Doney, Michael Duffy, Jo Volley (Slade School of Fine Art); Dr. Emma Richardson (Department of History of Art); Professor Tim Weyrich, Dr. Kathryn Piquet (Centre for Digital Humanities); Dr. Ruth Siddall and Jo Townshend; Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest: Ainsley Vinall; and Lillian Wilkie.

Commissioned as part of Bow Arts heritage project 'Raw Materials: Plastics', with generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and University College London.

Images: PHX [X is for Xylonite] [2019], film stills