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Christchurch to lose post-quake chairs artwork as land put up for sale

Author
Nathan Morton, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 Jan 2023, 10:20am
White Chairs artist, Peter Majendie knew the artwork’s fateful day was coming as the land’s sale was inevitable. Photo / George Heard
White Chairs artist, Peter Majendie knew the artwork’s fateful day was coming as the land’s sale was inevitable. Photo / George Heard

Christchurch to lose post-quake chairs artwork as land put up for sale

Author
Nathan Morton, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 Jan 2023, 10:20am

One of Christchurch’s most iconic post-quake memorial artworks, 185 Empty White Chairs, will be permanently taken down in March.

The artwork’s fate was confirmed this week as its site, the previous home of the quake-destroyed St Luke’s Church, went up for sale.

White Chairs artist Peter Majendie knew the artwork’s fateful day was coming as the land’s sale was inevitable.

“We knew it would happen, that they would rebuild on that site,” the artist said.

“But it’s been worthwhile.”

The artwork was erected eleven years ago, 185 chairs to represent every life lost in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

The artwork’s fate was confirmed this week as the artwork’s site, the previous home of the quake-destroyed St Luke’s Church went up for sale. Photo / George Heard

The artwork’s fate was confirmed this week as the artwork’s site, the previous home of the quake-destroyed St Luke’s Church went up for sale. Photo / George Heard

It’s shifted around the city over previous years, most recently making its home on the corner of Manchester and Kilmore Sts - a high-profile plot of land that remains one of the few bare CBD sites left.

The two-year lease on the land ends in March, with the Church’s Anglican Trustees now looking to sell.

Majendie is pondering over what will happen to the artwork, his suspicion is the chairs will likely fade away into history. However, the artist has a few ideas to offer.

“We’re still wondering how we’ll bring them to an end,” he said.

“I was talking to a photographer yesterday and said that scattering 185 white chairs amongst the coloured seats of the new stadium is a good idea.”

Making the artwork a permanent fixture in the city is an expensive option. When Christchurch City Council made assessments of where the artwork could go, the corner of the new stadium ground was the most logical.

Majendie is pondering over what will happen to the artwork, his suspicion is the chairs will likely fade away into history. Photo / George Heard

Majendie is pondering over what will happen to the artwork, his suspicion is the chairs will likely fade away into history. Photo / George Heard

“I can’t see it happening now, I think it’s just come to an end.”

The chairs were designed to represent the absence of those who lost their lives.

“The artwork never had names on the seats, it didn’t have a list of names for a long time, an artwork has a bit of freedom to it,” he said.

“For most of the time, it had an extra chair which recognised people that had heart attacks, but probably not if it had been a normal day, so you can do that with an artwork.

“Many didn’t come back to Christchurch so we recognised that, it was a ground-up thing, so the community connection is strong.”

When he looks back at the legacy of the artwork, Majendie feels humbled and appreciative of Christchurch’s support and engagement with the artwork piece in a bid to see it come to life, all those years ago.

Mejendie said the process of developing an idea and seeing it come to fruition was satisfying, but it’s the people he’s met through his work that he believes is a true reflection of the artwork’s impact.

He referenced times he would meet family members grieving the loss of loved ones who died in the quake, others who mourned family who passed in other tragedies.

“I’ve met a guy who lost a relative in the Malaysian Airlines disaster, he comes there as it’s a place of loss,” said Majendie.

“I think art can transcend an event and I think it did that.”

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