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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

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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, where cellulose nitrate was used as the base for film-stock until the mid-20th century and in props’ production. Against a collage of digital animation and hand-processed 16mm film, the soundtrack proposes a warped love song between the organic and synthetic, where human voices and recordings in shellac - lacquer obtained from the secretion of the Coccus Lacca insect - are transformed through a Vocoder. Scientist and laboratory technician, Dr. Miriam Wright, reads extracts from Roland Barthes' essay 'Plastics' (1957), colour experiments from a British Xylonite Company laboratory 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; so that the layers that make up the film - its emulsion and plastic substrate - are made evident; like its material seams that will, in future sedimentary rock layers, signal our Anthropocene era and its flawed capitalist productions.

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Images: PHX [X is for Xylonite] [2019], film stills. PHX [X is for Xylonite] was commissioned as part of Bow Arts heritage project 'Raw Materials: Plastics', with generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and University College London. Screenings: 'Projections', 57th New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center, New York [2019]; Edge of Frame / London International Animation Festival, Close-Up Film Centre, London [2019]; Institute of Making, UCL [2019]; and The Nunnery, London [2019].