185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation


From the Resene Total Colour Awards gallery of entries

Resene Total Colour Awards 2016
185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation

The concept of The Empty Chair depicting the loss of someone has been used repeatedly across time and cultures.

The inspiration for this installation came from Van Gogh’s painting of empty chairs depicting the personality of their owners. The installation consists of 185 white chairs, each one different, representing the individuality of those who died as a result of the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011.

The chairs are all ordinary, everyday chairs that have been hand-painted with two coats of paint, and placed on 185 square metres of ready lawn. They were initially placed on the site of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church for the first anniversary of the earthquake, but have been on the current site, diagonally opposite the CTV building site, since October 2012.

The individuality of each chair pays tribute to the uniqueness of each person represented. From a baby capsule to a rocking chair, an office chair to a wheelchair, each chair is representative of different ages and stages of life and various cultures. The installation resonates with people by the ordinary, everyday nature of the chairs. For instance, although nobody was killed in a wheelchair, three people have ended up in one and people have commented that they felt ‘crippled’ by the earthquakes. Everybody can find a chair, or series of chairs, that they can identify with.

185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation Christchurch
185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation Christchurch
185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation Christchurch
185 Empty Chairs Earthquake Remembrance Art Installation Christchurch

The installation has become a place for people to reflect on the earthquake and the loss of lives, livelihood and way of life. As memories of the events of the earthquake fade, the installation remains as an ongoing place of reflection and acknowledgement of loss.

Art is open to interpretation, and art can transcend a specific event. It can speak to us, and speak for us, when we have no words to express how we feel.

The Resene Hi-Glo gloss waterborne paint in the colour white used on all the chairs suggests purity and innocence. There is a cold starkness about it which contrasts with the green of the ready lawn, the blackness of the fence finished in Resene Waterborne Woodsman Pitch Black, Resene Hi-Glo in Resene Black on the information board and the Resene Lumbersider in Resene Bright Red on the information board roof. The arrangement and colour is also ‘tombstone’ like.

As they are exposed to the elements, the gloss paint has good weathering ability to the wide range of materials and surfaces. The acrylic primer undercoat adheres well to all the different materials of the chairs: varnished wood, chrome, plastic, fabric etc.

The maintenance of the installation requires regular attention, particularly after inclement weather, and is forced upon us by the nature of the materials and site. Domestic chairs break down and need to be repaired or replaced, all the chairs are removed from the grass and replaced every time the lawn is mowed, so the arrangement changes. The chairs are all completely repainted twice a year by a group of volunteers.

Painting contractor: Peter Majendie and volunteers
Photographer: Joyce Majendie

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