Wednesday, August 29, 2012

185 cheers

One day, when Christchurch is rebuilt, there will be a proper memorial for the 185 people who died on 22 February - but in the meantime, there's this. On an empty corner section owned by the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, artist Pete Majendie has created an installation of 185 white-painted chairs, all different, on an 185 square metre expanse of fine new grass surrounded by scabby patches of liquefaction.

It's not a new idea, to use chairs to commemorate the dead - in Krakow earlier this year I saw another chair memorial in the Jewish Quarter - but it's very effective symbolism and hard to look at without a rush of emotion. Pete was there when I was visiting, and told me that the chairs were freely given by all sorts of people and businesses, and that each one was painted, twice, by hand - "It didn't seem right, to spray them. Hand-painting allowed more time to think."

It was only meant to be there for 2 weeks, but that was 6 months ago, and visitors have filled 7 notebooks with comments in that time, so it's clearly serving a need. One woman, Pete said, spent ages walking around the chairs. I had thought that mourners would find one chair to symbolise the person they lost, but this lady, whose son died, found a whole series, from a baby basket, to a high chair, to a little primary school one, all the way up to an office chair and an armchair like the one he'd sit in at night - his whole life, told in chairs. Sad.

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