I’d like to give you some examples of plasticity, and there are many. Plasticity is the potential or process of a material or thing transforming into something else (sand into concrete, then molded into whatever, is a very plastic substance). This also can be applied to conceptual things such as music. For example, the pattern of I, IV, V, chords enable the performer to use their multiple combinations in songs. On a conceptual level, one is able to perceive music as color, plastic ribbons, sheets of sound etc. Music transforms when we hear it, and because of that we can think of it as a plastic substance. We can identify plasticity, and its process of transformation in many ways and things.
I was over at a friend’s house and her daughter had an animated T.V. show on that caught my eye. There were animated animal creatures spinning and dancing, and they were quite amusing. As I watched the show, I thought about the difference between them and real dancers on stage. They were fantastic and danced movements no human could. On that level, they were magical, powerful, and plasticized reality. I am sure that ancient statues had the same aura and power that these cartoons have for us. The animated figures is a dramatic example of the fetishistic power of plasticity.
With rock and roll, Punk’s spirit is the plasticity of white kids playing over blues chords. Elvis stayed too close to the blues to be punk (he had his punkish upper lip), and the Beatles were too far away (a more plasticized version of folk). Punk is a dysfunctional form of the blues transformed into rock and roll. An example of early punk is the Yardbirds. They had the posture and style of a formidable punk band. And they were the model for every garage band since then. If a feeble suburban garage band could play even a whiff of a Yardbirds’ tune at the dance or battle of the bands, they got the neighborhood girls and respect. The Yardbirds stretched the blues out with hyperactive guitar virtuosity, sneering nasal flat vocals, dominating bass, and the drum solo. The effect was one of ecstasy and insolence, and not low down sadness. The Yardbirds plasticized chord progressions of the blues by adding in non blues chords (switching minor major). They displaced the soul of the blues with contempt, which is punk. They really didn’t want to play the blues, they wanted to soup it up into something else even more sexual and dangerous. They had a thing they called the rave up. This was really a jam that peaked at the point of falling apart. When the wheels start to fall apart, when Jeff Beck starts to beat up his guitar and cause feed back, we are far from the blues, we are in the arena of punk white boys.
Now plasticity doesn’t make a work of art, rather it is understood as an effect of an art work. One of its effects is the artifice of space, that is tricking the eye and the ear. Jackson Pollock’s lacy forms and lines appear in various separate dimensions of plastic space. He builds plastic tension by layering the subject from the ground. This is his art and he knew when to stop painting. His paintings have a luminosity and articulation of space. The crucial difference between serious abstract painting and kitsch among other things, is that this plastic space or artifice is absent in kitsch.
The plastic artifice in Greek Hellenistic sculpture emerges in modeling and proportions. Greek gods and goddesses are perfectly and mathematically proportioned just beyond the real human form. They were an ideal template for human form, yet no human could ever possess those proportions. They are pure plastic forms existing in the ideal dimension of the gods. This is what gives them that seductive beauty comparable to the plasticity in photography and the fashion model.
There are other effects of plasticity: a negative and a positive one. This shouldn’t be taken in a literal sense at any level. Imagine a form that was cut from a block of matter. The appearance possesses an essential inner core that is self-contained and severe. This would be an example of negative plasticity. Positive plasticity spreads out from a core or armature. The effect of the form is that of assembled elements. Early Greek sculpture is self-contained and has the effect of negative plasticity. The statue of Augustus is made up of assembled parts, and the effect is positive plasticity.
Plastic forms and pure plastic forms have been identified and discussed by Piet Mondrian in his famous essay. Yet, it is here that I have given some notes on plasticity and its effects from music to art. Plasticity is the process of transformation and could be view as the measure of the permutations of change. And because there is change there are also permutations of plasticity. Our critical awareness is opened when we identify how plastic elements affect and change our world and its forms. It is one instrument we can use to cite formal issues that emerge from changes inherent in our culture.
You can read the unedited version of this article on Plasticity.