…plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation; as its everyday name indicates, it is ubiquity made visible. [It is] a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature. Plastic remains impregnated throughout with this wonder: it is less a thing than the trace of a movement.
– Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957.
Plastic ever outplays its own entropy, always to find order in its fluid forms; to settle at its own level. It is little surprise plastic has its own entry in Roland Barthes’ classic collection of everyday myths. Writing in the 1950s, Barthes’ attempt to find a ‘language’ for phenomena ‘most unlike literature’, coincides with the post-War developments in new forms of plastics and the explosion of mass-produced plastic goods. It was the everyday consumption of plastic things that provided the landscape for a new way of thinking, prompting pop art, pop music, and cultural plasticity or diversity of all kinds. Only, it seemed we quickly fell out of love with plastic. The vast energy required to manufacture it, and the subsequent difficulty to dispose or recycle it, has comes to be at odds with contemporary environmental citizenship. At odds, that is, until recently, when a whole new plastic fascination was ignited by developments in 3D printing. The closing line of Barthes’ essay on plastic is eerily prophetic: ‘The hierarchy of substances is abolished: a single one replaces them all: the whole world can be plasticized, and even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas’.
Solid State takes inspiration from a matrix of ‘plastic pop’ references of a historical trajectory from Michael Jackson to Kylie Minogue, to Beyonce, to a Kardashian. Each of these characters represent malleable forms: whether as bodies that shimmer, ever transfiguring, and effortlessly merging with fashions; or as ‘culturally essentialist’ identities that manufacture and mobilize race and gender. Cutting through this timeline of ‘pop’ was the emergence of a new analogue technology, the ‘solid state’ mixing desk, that (prior to digital technologies) enabled the real-time programming of music. We generally recognise plastic when it is in a solid state, yet it is its very ability to re-mix itself that defines it. The project takes instances of plasticity and refashions them, along the way acknowledging ambivalence, degradation and anomalies. We think of digital 3D printing and scanning as offering ‘clean’ virtual tools, yet in fact they spill, jar and fragment. Solid State is like the ‘syntax error’ in our contemporary mythology of a fluid, sharable world. With the State we’re in, with its supposedly porous boundaries and hierarchies, we need new tactics, new ways of making sense of being plastic. As Trevor Horn, that great innovator of solid state music production, puts it: ‘Should the rhythm track be like this or that? If you don’t know, then you’re just selecting an option. Whereas if the decision makes itself, well, it’s obvious it should be this one…’