EXPLORATIONS INTO THE MONOBLOC (1): TINA ROEDER'S WHITE BILLION CHAIRS
This text was written for the catalogue of White Billion Chairs (33 by Tina Roeder), an exhibition at Appel Gallery in Berlin, where Geman designer Tina Roeder presented a collection of 33 old and rare Monobloc chairs, individually perforated by the artist with up to ten thousand holes each, and matt sanded, „in order to give them a new life and appreciation“.
„The monobloc chair that everybody loves to hate in the design world may not exhume the aura, styilishness and aesthetics of its predecessors in design history, but even one of the greatest who had embarked on the pioneering experiments that lead to this plastic chair out of one piece, Verner Panton, later humbly admitted that 'whatever one may think of its design, the idea behind (the monobloc, mb) touched genius: to create a comfortable garden chair, light, feather.light even, and cheap, out of a simple material. Almost anyone can find some comfort in it, whereas its lightness doesn't prevent it from being also very stable. It can be stacked almost endlessly, in order to be stocked or transported, and can be cleaned easily, with nothing but water and soap. Weatherproof, it doesn't need any further maintenance. It can hibernate without any problems, while it also saves space, and with a price of 10 Marks anyone can afford it'. (It was still 1997 when Panton wrote this in Sybille Hofter's 'Modell:Aurora, 500 000 000 Plastilstühle, the catalogue of an exhibition on the monobloc, mb)
Vico Magistretti, who had been the first to succeed in creating a plastic monobloc chair in 1967, with the Selene he designed for Artemide, may well have described its anonymous competitor as 'a perfect example of all the vulgarity of our time' in the same catalogue, but despite -or rather because- of this, this competitor has also become the object that, more than any other piece of furniture, symbolizes the spirit of the second half of the twentieth century. In other words: if one would take all the definitions of design of that period, and mix their criteria of what the ultimate chair should be, from comfortable to democratic, the monobloc seemed a candidate that could come nearest to the final result, not in the least because of the fact that it has also become ubiquitous, since it had first been launched beginning of the eighties. When Sibylle Hofter published the catalogue in which Panton and Magistretti ventilated their opinion, the number of copies sold, in Europe only, was estimated at half a billion. Today, that number must certainly have doubled. Lennon may have bluffed when he said that the Beatles were more popular than God, but the monobloc chair is certainly more popular than the cross.
What's more: its poor and old-fashioned aesthetics, and its success as a poor man's throne in third world countries, also turned it in a symbol of anti-design, Whereas the chair that could be seen as its equivalent in the 19th century, the Thonet Stuhl Nr 14, was way ahead of its time in epitomising everything that would later be prescribed as good design by the blooming avant-garde, to such degree even that Le Corbusier still praised it as the chair that did away with all others, the monobloc is its very opposite, in that its qualities are purely economical and utilitarian. While even much more mimicking the metal bistro chair that had ruled the terraces since the beginning of the twentieth century, than the experiments in plastics of the likes of Panton, Colombo, or Magistretti, its qualities are only a matter of quantity. In doing so, it also perfectly expresses the bankruptcy of Modernism, and its impotence versus a corporate industry, whose philosophy can be summarised in one single catchphrase: sell whatever to whoever in whatever way.
All this might help explain why the monobloc has become such an important subject matter and source of inspiration, not so much for the classical modernist designer, but for a younger generation that has gone on the search for alternatives – beyond Modernism and beyond the industry. If a chair has always been considered to be the greatest challenge for a designer, today the monobloc is the first and foremost obstacle on the way to new typologies.
That also goes for the young Berlin designer Tina Roeder, whose other work, such as Crredenza or Visual Anaesthesia, also deals with he way in which ideologies, from Communism to psychoánalysis, find themselves reflected in objects and furniture. While investigating the line between the mass-produced and the singular, and the ready made and unique, she almost returned to the adagio that had been the starting point for Jasper Morrison when he wrote 'The Poet will not Polish' as a Manifesto for the experimental movement Kaufhaus des Ostens catalogue, back in the eighties: reducing the design act to going out, eyes wide open, and celebrating what is already there, by choosing the objects, and giving them a simple twist, a détournement . Nevertheless, this poet adds some polishing to her piercing, and invests her whole body, while turning the anonymous into something personal, and the vulgar into extremely precious and vulnerable. (mb)“
(First published in 2009, in White Billion Chairs, 33 by Tina Roeder. Texts by Max Borka, Tina Roeder and Volker Albus. Book design by Tina Borkowski. Photography by Guido Mieth and Tilmann Appel)