October 29, 2012


It’s good that Pete Majendie’s 185 empty chairs (for 185 dead) earthquake memorial has survived and found a new home on the site of St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church on Madras Street. This side of town is now becoming the unofficial centre of earthquake remembrance: the empty, still eerie CTV site opposite, the temporary (cardboard) Anglican Cathedral taking shape almost next door, and now these chairs, which initially appeared on the first anniversary of the February 22 quake, on the site of the Oxford Tce Baptist Church. At the time I wrote that they looked like they were awaiting the general resurrection of the dead. Relocated, they now seem like a memorial to themselves, an exhibit about the objects we remember with.

The supporting text came over from Oxford Tce too. It tells us that the empty chair has often depicted absence or loss, as in (Samuel) Luke Fildes’ depiction of Dickens’ empty desk and chair, which inspired Van Gogh and Gauguin. More recently and explicitly, 2753 empty chairs appeared in Bryant Park, New York, facing the fallen towers on September 11, 2011. Empty chairs have also memorialised the Oklahoma bombing and the vanished Jews of Krakow, Poland.