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PHX [X is for Xylonite]

Frances Scott

United Kingdom, 2019
12 minutes, 54 seconds, Colour, Stereo, 16:9
Original format: 16mm Film / HD Video
Available formats: HD Digital file / DCP

In ‘PHX [X is for Xylonite]’, the first semi-synthetic plastics are considered through their relationship to the chemical and industrial development of photography and film. Cellulose nitrate – Xylonite – was used as the base for film-stock until the mid-20th century shift to acetate, and in the production of film props. 3D digital animation is composited with hand-processed 16mm film, including footage from the demolition site of the original ‘Parkesine’ plastics factory in East London. These flickering, contingent materials propose a warped love song between organic and synthetic, where sounds of voices and recordings in shellac – the lacquer obtained from the secretion of the Coccus Lacca insect – are transformed through a Vocoder. Polymer Chemistry laboratory technician, Dr. Miriam Wright, reads extracts from Roland Barthes’ essay ‘Plastics’ (1957), colour experiments from a British Xylonite Company formula book (1888) and symptoms of plastics degradation: ‘crazing’, ‘yellowing’ and ‘bloom’. 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; the layers that make up the film – its emulsion and plastic substrate – are made evident; like the material seams in future sedimentary rock layers that will signal our Anthropocene era and its flawed capitalist productions.