The Star: June 22, 2017


The Star Latest Christchurch news at www. .kiwi

Thursday June 22 2017 23

for his 185 Empty Chairs memorial

Where did you take your

inspiration from?

The 1995 Oklahoma bombing

memorial is made up of chairs. I

do speak on Vincent van Gogh

– he painted chairs depicting

personality – I think that was the

strongest influence. I know some

people have said they don’t want

a chair to represent their loved

one but the empty chair speaks

of the absence of the person.

And you mentioned your

friend’s son-in-law died in the

quake, did you know anyone


Not well. I’d done quite a bit of

art around town and I had been

interviewed by CTV a number of

times, so I did know people who

worked there.

Did that make the 185 Empty

Chairs more personal for you?

It was, especially my friend’s

son-in-law. It’s been a privilege,

I’ve met some wonderful people

with amazing stories. People

who help maintain the chairs

feel they are actually doing

something, because they are

all hand-painted. One guy

suffered serious injuries in the

earthquake and it took him two

hours to paint the wheelchair,

and I think he found it quite

MOVING: Peter Majendie created an installation at Sumner

beach to mark the 100th anniversary of the withdrawal of

troops from Gallipoli.

therapeutic. No-one who was

in a wheelchair was killed, but I

know three people did finish up

in wheelchairs. There were a few

people who came along and it

was their first time coming into

town since the day of the quake.

You must meet a lot of

affected people there?

Yes, because it’s so open-ended

and an everyday object people

can engage. Someone told me he

remembered his son from the

little baby carrier, through to

the high chair, school chair, the

swivel chair at work. And some

people connect with just one


What other art work have you

done in Christchurch?

We used to do large-scale

peace labyrinths in Latimer

Square. They were very interactive.

We also wrapped the

orange tree for the launch of the

Canterbury Community Trust’s

$25 million earthquake fund. It

was on the corner of Manchester

St and Oxford Tce. We used hundreds

of metres of fabric for that.

And can you tell me a bit

about Sidedoor Arts Trust, and

what it’s all about?

Sidedoor has run for about 14

years. It came from a contemplative

space that my wife Joyce and

I created for people going out the

back door of church to help connection

and reflection. As for the

chairs, a friend of mine has done

his masters thesis around community

homelessness. He interviewed

a lot of homeless people

in Christchurch and they were

telling him the chairs for them

are a sacred place. They would

sit there and smoke and drink,

and I have no problem with that,

but they would never sleep there,

it’s a set-apart space. In some

sense, the Margaret Mahy Family

Playground is a sacred space.

It’s an absolute joy – I take my

grandkids there. Those are the

sort of things the city needs to

give it some soul. That was one of

the reasons we decided to push

ahead with making the chairs


On another note, I hear

you’re also a bit of a stand-up

comedian. Can you tell me

about that?

I did it on the tram and I’ve

done stand-up in Auckland and

overseas in the United States,

United Kingdom and Australia.

It revolves around the fact I’m

deaf, my parents were deaf. I’ve

had a couple of operations and

have the most powerful hearing

aids you can get and a pretty

good phone. My parents went

deaf in their 20s so I knew what

it was like. I think in some ways

that was quite influential on my

art. We are so dependent on

words, so through art I’m trying

to say things visually.

And what do you like to do in

your spare time?

I like my mountain biking.

I’ve had some pretty spectacular

crashes. And I have six grandkids

who are a constant joy and

I am quite involved with. Joyce

and I are about to go with our

youngest son, his wife and three

kids to Paris and the UK.

Sounds exciting, and did you

grow up in Christchurch?

I grew up in Brighton and

I’ve always lived here. We’re in

Heathcote now.

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