185 Empty White Chairs


Walking through the Cardboard Cathedral, I felt it charge the urban permanence more than its ‘temporary’ label suggested. The fear of dissolving, deteriorating, very real on the old man’s face who showed me around the shipping container walls, stained perspex and cardboard tubes. He’d like his original church back. Opinion is split on this one and probably won’t be resolved anytime soon. Some see it as an opportunity to build a very modern city. A way to get rid of the ‘ugly’, too subjective to discuss here, so I walk and admire what ‘disaster architect’ Shigeru Ban has achieved.

Outside a wasteland, the city of a hundred carparks, undulating footpaths, rubble and broken glass has become a city of fascination for me. It will never be like this again. It is rebuilding. In five years, all the plans should be complete. The graffiti will be hidden behind new buildings. The lights will glisten on the Avon, the cherry blossoms bursting a blaze above even more white daffodils. Until then, the cities empty spaces are being used for art space. They are everywhere, from the quirky Dance-O-Matic to more solid statements like The Tree Museum, they are all part of the healing of this place.

Becoming a very important site of reflection here in Christchurch, is the Cardboard Cathedral’s neighbour, 185 Empty White Chairs – Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood. This installation sits on the corner of a demolished building. 185 white chairs, all different, side by side in rows. From kitchen stools to cape cods, wheelchairs, even a baby capsule representing the different personalities and the lives lost in the earthquake in 2011. Cleared of all physical memory of what stood before, these chairs are weathering time. Extreme winters rusting metal, cracking leather, splintering wood, peeling the paint.

Artist Peter Majendie, walks the perimeter, tries to fix a windbreak, picks up the litter, dead flowers and detritus that has made its way through the exhibit. img_1125“We have a clean up team arriving this week, fresh paint and repairs for the spring”. This memorial is very powerful. It’s not the first time that chairs have been represented in acknowledging the tragedies that occur on this planet. In art, the gesture of a bed, a table, a chair is all throughout art history. A place where we once stood, sat, wrote, laughed, cried, shared, indicating the energy we leave behind and the memories in the minds we touched. This place is becoming more than a representation of that day, “185 chairs has become a place to reflect on all our sorrow, the loss of loved ones not necessarily who left us here on that day, but anytime in our lives”


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