Hauke Wendler has dedicated a documentary film to the most popular and at the same time least popular piece of furniture in the world: “Monobloc”.
For one of the biggest bestsellers of the 20th and 21st centuries, it eke out a comparatively inglorious existence: the monobloc plastic chair. However, his story is not quite as unknown as Hauke Wendler’s documentary, not the first on the subject, might have you believe. Above all, the full-time management consultant Jens Thiel has been doing basic research for a good two decades. He not only identified the French engineer Henry Massonnet as the inventor of the piece of furniture made in one piece in 1972. Thiel also shared his unique video material from a successful visit with the filmmaker shortly before his death in 2005.
Hauke Wendler, who likes to put himself in the picture in other places, only calls Thiel an “enthusiast” in the comment. Right up until the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition “A Chair for the World” in 2017, Wendler claims, nothing at all was known about its inventor.
The careless handling of the research of others fits the history of the controversial piece of furniture. A visit to the English Wikipedia page is enough; there the Italian designer Joe Colombo with his Chair Universal 4867 from 1965 is considered the true originator of the cheap chair. Of course, neither he nor Massonnet patented something that has perhaps already been patented a billion times: Whether plague or blessing, the monobloc, which is omnipresent especially in less prosperous countries, is an integral part of cultural history in the 20th century.
Wendler’s film, in turn, spans this arc in a series of lively miniatures that are definitely worth watching: The encounter with the three elderly Proserpio brothers, who became monobloc millionaires with their Italian family business, stands for old European capitalism. By making the manufacturing process a matter of seconds, they also provided emerging market industries with an easily replicated model of success. In the US, we see a philanthropic engineer shipping wheelchairs with monobloc seats to Uganda through a church foundation. And the collection and recycling of short-lived goods still keeps many people in Brazil employed. In the end, ash becomes ash and granules become granules.
Aesthetic and ecological debates are only marginally mentioned on this trip around the world. And music in particular lacks its own attitude to questions of globalization. Taco van Hettinga composes a musical monobloc from the musette waltz to African-style rhythms to Latin jazz: always sits.
monobloc. D 2021, Director: Hauke Wendler. 95 mins
The book “Monobloc” with texts by Wendler will be published by Hatje & Cantz on February 25, 192 pages, 120 images, 22 euros.