31 Jan 2017

Quake chairs artwork too 'empty' for CTV site

8:40 pm on 31 January 2017

Opinions are divided on whether a spontaneous art work honouring the victims of the Christchurch earthquake should be moved to the site of the collapsed CTV building.

White Chair Memorial.

The collection of chairs sits opposite the CTV building site. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The collection of 185 empty chairs sits opposite the site where 115 people lost their lives, but will eventually move to make way for a proposed stadium.

The artist behind the work wanted the chairs cast in metal and placed on the CTV site itself.

Some family members of those who died oppose the proposal.

Former CTV receptionist Mary Anne Jackson said she supported the chairs either moving on to the site or remaining where they are.

"You drive past there, there's always people in there looking... It's a symbol and it's a reminder of how people lost their lives that dreaded day."

Maan Alkaisi.

Widower Maan Alkaisi: "The site itself is a very sensitive site, it's very sacred." Photo: RNZ / Nicola Grigg

Ms Jackson visits the site and lays flowers by the chairs every earthquake anniversary.

The artwork - which was not officially signed off by authorities - had become an unofficial memorial, she said.

"I'm not sure whether it's because they're painted white and they're all just there in a row and they're all shapes and sizes. And I love it how every year on the memorial day they always put flowers around, it's lovely, it looks great."

Maan Alkaisi, whose wife died in the building, said putting the chairs on the CTV site would be inappropriate.

He would prefer something positive, such as a garden and a water feature. He believed the empty chairs were too sad.

"I like the idea that we have a garden and some life because I would like to think that my wife is still giving to the city, still making the city more beautiful and the chairs represent something static...something empty, it's more sad."

He said the government, which owned the land, had conducted a survey of family members which found most were opposed to placing the chairs there.

"The site itself is a very sensitive site, it's very sacred. There are people who are still there probably. We couldn't find even a trace of their DNA, it just disappeared in the ground.

"There are many different cultures, they also do not like the idea of chairs."

The artist behind the work, Peter Majendie, said he was inspired to make it by the death of his best friend's son-in-law in the building.

It was a privilege to be part of giving people a place to remember those who died, he said.

"It's provided a place that in some ways for some people has been quite healing. I met a young guy there, he bikes in there, he bikes in there to sit on a chair and talk to his Mum."

The CTV site was the most appropriate place for the work to now go, because it was a place where everybody could reflect, not just the families of those who died, he said.

"Absolutely everybody will one day will experience what it's like to have an empty chair at their table, that was the idea.

"I mean some people have said it's disrespectful to represent somebody with a chair, it's a little bit different than that."

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