16 Jun 2017

185 White Chairs - stay or go?

From Christchurch Dilemmas, 3:31 pm on 16 June 2017

185 White Chairs was a “ground-up” response to Christchurch's most devastating day and was only meant to be temporary. But such was the response to Pete Majendie’s creation that five years on it remains a must-see for visitors and locals.

According to TripAdvisor, the art installation is Christchurch’s top landmark attraction and 4th ranked  in New Zealand. 

Artist, Majendie, doesn’t care for such accolades. He likes that his work touches people in different way and that “in a sense it transcends the earthquake, though it’s rooted in the earthquake.”

An infant car seat was given by a couple who lost their baby to cot death. 

“People can bring their own story and sit with it," says Majendie.

Some chairs have been gifted by families who lost loved ones on February 22, but there has also been criticism from others who claim the installation is inappropriate. A bid to install 185 White Chairs on the CTV site was rejected.

In response, Majendie says it’s not a memorial, it’s art, and “the empty chair is depicting the absence of the person, it's not as if this chair is the person”. 

“Everybody experiences at some stage there is now an empty chair at their table,” he says.

Majendie has collected stacks of visitor books left at the site, overflowing with comments.

He wants to see the installation find a permanent site and his preference is Latimer Square. This week he will present to the Christchurch City Council his plans which include aluminium-cast chairs arranged on a sloping, concrete plinth.

“I've talked about the city needing a soul or a spirit or a heart. I think those are the things that make a city what a city is.”