“If you trip over a plastic chair, no one bursts into joy,” says Hauke Wendler. But, adds the documentary filmmaker, nothing in life is what it seems at first sight. It is said that there are a billion of these one-piece, mostly white plastic chairs in Germany.
Save money all the time
It takes 50-55 seconds to cast the chair in one piece. It was invented by Henry Massonnet in the early 1970s, after some precursors by other designers. He still sees the chair as a design object for upper-class buyers.
“At the time, Massonnet wanted to create a lifestyle object and also used much better quality materials than today’s hardware store chairs,” says Heng Zhi of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, who has organized a one-piece exhibition.
“Today, it’s all about efficiency. This means that it is simply recorded endlessly. If the thickness of the material can no longer be reduced, you make holes or patterns in the backrest or in the seat.
This with the old value developed by the Creator seems a long time ago. Or maybe it’s just what it seems? Design waste! ecological waste! Many interviewees laughed loudly in Hauke Wendler’s film “Monobloc”.
Is recycling always better?
But there is then a radical turning point in the documentary, with in particular a leap of continents. To the disabled woman in Uganda who cannot afford a wheelchair, and to American Don Schoendorfer and his NGO Free Wheelchair Mission, an organization that provides wheelchairs to people with disabilities in developing countries.
Engineer Schoendorfer had a priority. He wants to keep the cost of wheelchairs as low as possible to serve as many people as possible. This made Schoendorfer the cheapest chair in the world. For the “Free Wheelchair Mission”, he builds a monoblock on a metal base with wheels.
The scenes in the documentary where the elderly woman drives her ‘Gen 1’ – seated on a wheeled monoblock – down the street of her village in Uganda for the first time are deeply touching and awe-inspiring.
In Brazil and India, where Wendler still travels, it is clear that the chair made some local industrial families very wealthy, but at the same time provided the basis for a vibrant industry that eventually recycled the polypropylene from the broken chairs that the chair can then be cast again.
However, the recycling center in India is anything but a nice place, as Wendler reports: “For me, recycling has always been one of the good words that make life better, cleaner and fairer. The longer you stay long between the noise and the stench and the shooting of the plastic shards, the longer I doubt it’s that simple.”
Another view of the monoblock
At first, says the filmmaker, the monobloc was for him a ridiculous and ugly object. This impression has fundamentally changed. Because that chair is often the only piece of furniture poor people in developing countries can afford, and it’s not just for wheelchair users.
In his wonderful film, Wendler allows us to participate in this process of reflection. In this way, the documentary becomes an insightful study in the global era of different perspectives on things.
Being determines consciousness, this also applies to the evaluation of a cast plastic chair in less than a minute. Sometimes a movie helps clear the view for that achievement with all of its inherent contradictions.
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