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Christchurch locals say their goodbyes to earthquake memorial "185 Empty White Chairs"

Sophie Vaughan
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Getting ready for people to come along and collect the chairs.  Sophie Vaughan

After 11 years, the Christchurch art installation remembering those lost in the 2011 February earthquakes has come to an end.

The art piece was created by Peter Majendie on the one-year anniversary of the fatal disaster, where 185 empty white chairs portrayed those who passed in the event. The inspiration came from a similar art piece; a holocaust memorial in Germany that showcased 140 empty chairs.  

The installation moved to various locations over the years, most recently being kept where the St. Luke's Anglican Church used to stand before it fell in the 2011 earthquake. Unfortunately, there had to be an end to the art, with a massive expense and a lack of space to put it, as well as the current property selling recently. The chairs saw their final day last Saturday, and people were encouraged to come collect a chair to take home.  

Majendie said it was sad, but it was time for it to go.

"I’m happy for people to come and get their own chair. The museum is getting a chair, so they will be represented in the new museum. I think this is the best option.” 

He also talked about the importance of the memorial.

“Because it was up on the first anniversary, I think it was a place to come. It took six years to get the national earthquake memorial, so I think this place was way ahead of that, it offered a place for people to reflect and contemplate.” 


“I used to meet a 12 year old boy here, he’d come in and sit there and chat to his mum. That was six years before they got a memorial, so he’d come and talk to his mum. He needed something when he was 12 not when he was 18.” 

Peter Majendie

Majendie believes there is any number of people like that.

“I think it’s become a place of loss. I think the empty chairs speaks quite a lot, it’s about absence, it’s about the empty chair.” 

Central Ward Councillor Jake McLellan said the 185 Empty White Chair artwork had a real impact following the earthquake sequence.

"While I believe the artist has acknowledged this work is coming to a natural conclusion, I know this piece will be remembered long into the future.” 

Peter’s wife, Joyce Majendie, also expressed her thoughts on the closure of the art piece.

“It became obvious many years ago that there was no room to have it permanently and the land is becoming more and more expensive in town, less of it available, so it was going to be inevitable at some time that it would come to an end.” 


St Lukes Empty No Chairs
St Luke's property now with no chairs to be seen. Sam Marshall
“It is the end of an era but I also think it’s a start of a new era for those who take them home and put them in their garden, they are able to take that memory with them. It’s just a change, really, a transition. We have already transitioned through two other sites, so they will just be dispersed.” 
Joyce Majendie

“I think a lot of people found it very meaningful and a lot of them mentally adopted a chair to signify the person that was missing in their life, and everywhere we go people know about it and it’s very special to them.”  

The couple provided tea and scones for those who came down to either collect a chair or say their goodbyes to the memorial. They were both happy with the event, and believed people were happy they were able to come and see all the chairs together for the last time, meet old friends, and see it as another step with moving on.