Directed by Hauke Wendler • Documentary • 2022 • 90 minutes
Universally recognized yet frequently discarded, the monobloc plastic chair has been the world’s best-selling piece of furniture since its invention in the 1970s, with over a billion units in circulation worldwide.
Hauke Wendler’s feature-length documentary MONOBLOC takes a closer look at this deceptively bland piece of furniture, exploring its ubiquity and streamlined production process as a potent microcosm of economic globalization and inequality. Originally conceived by Henry Massonnet as a fashionable design object for upper-class consumers, the pursuit of lowered production costs above all else soon led it to become a symbol of cheap design and bad taste across much of the first world.
Filming across five continents, Wendler contrasts this disparaging view of the Monobloc with its role in many developing countries, where its low cost has made it one of the few pieces of furniture that impoverished families can afford. In Uganda we are introduced to Dan Schoendorfer, whose Free Wheelchair Mission has modified inexpensive Monoblocs to make wheelchairs available to millions for the first time. Trips to India and Brazil similarly reveal the chair’s importance to the developing world, where local industrialist families have taken over the production and recycling process.
Unexpectedly expansive in scope, MONOBLOC reveals how a single consumer product can tell a much broader story of global development, aesthetic judgement and economic inequality.