"I make really absurd objects, I guess? That's kind of my Thing," Nikolas Bentel, a 24-year-old artist and designer living in New York, told me over the phone. His latest absurd object is a humble wooden stool, part of his new documentary, All Purpose Nik. While he worked to better understand how humans have designed ourselves out of our natural environment, he set out to build a simple stool with no tools, screws, or glue. He just walked out into the forest, knocked down a small tree, and started chewing, scratching, punching it into shape.
The result is hideously charming, in a Flintstones-meets-IKEA kind of way. "Obviously in no way would anyone ever have this in their house on a daily basis," Nik told me. "But it was a good trial for making a one-off designed object."
A stool is a very simple object, he said. "At first glance you don't realize how many components there are; you don't realize how much time it takes to make something like this… It takes so much energy to make this very, very simple object." As part of the process, Nik recruited his father, an architect and woodworker named Paul, to physically use Nik's body as a tool. Paul looks extremely patient about the whole thing.
Nik refers to this experiment as a way to "become human again," which I found kind of weird. A big part of being human is our ability to use tools, after all. But Nik is going to an extreme to prove a point; that at the other extreme is a dystopian vision along the lines of the Pixar movie Wall-E, where humanity has devolved into fat, useless lumps catered to by robots. "Can we figure out how to use our muscles again, can we learn how to use our environment again?" Nik asks.
You can see the trailer for the documentary above, and you can find parts 1 and 2 already online. All of the parts will be released by August 23.