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Quake City

February 26, 2015

185 Empty ChairsChristchurch is a city defined by the earthquake which struck on 22nd February 2011.

We visited Mona Vale gardens and the Cashmere Hills for a view over the city before driving down to the new Cardboard Cathedral, which describes itself as a cathedral for a city in transition.

However, the sight which struck me the most was the 185 Empty Chairs installation a short walk from the back of the Cardboard Cathedral.

This temporary work by Pete & Joyce Majendie was created in memory of the 185 people who lost their lives as a result of the earthquake, which our bus driver explained was the most expensive per capita in the world.

Each chair is different, hand painted twice and dressed with fresh carnations. Visitors are invited to select a chair to sit in and spend some time reflecting.

I felt that it would be sacriligeous to sit in the chairs which seemed to me to be occupied in the sense that they are holding space for the spirits of the departed but I did take time to read the poems displayed in the booth which listed the names of the 185.

The poem which touched  a chord for me was John O’Donohue’s ‘For Grief’, particularly the lines about entering the hearth in one’s soul once the wounds of loss have healed.

While talking to the artist on site I realised that I was already acquainted with O’Donohue’s book ‘Anam Cara’.

As I walked away from the 185 Empty Chairs the following verse came to mind:

Four years on

the city is hushed,

holding its breath

against the next

quake to strike

its fragile heart.

This was a distillation of facts thoughts that had been mulling in the back of my mind while I listened to the absence of sound throughout my stay in Christchurch.

If you are interested to find out more about the stories of the people affected by the quake visit http://www.quakecity.co.nz

 

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