Christchurch's iconic 185 Empty Chairs artwork disassembled after 11 years

The iconic post-quake 185 Empty Chairs artwork in Christchurch is being disassembled after standing for more than a decade.

On Saturday, a ceremony was held to farewell the chairs - with the public invited to take one home.

For the past 11 years, the 185 empty chairs have provided a place to reflect and remember, but now they're being rehomed.

"People will have chairs in their garden, it'll be engulfed by beauty growing over it and the chair will break down. But it's quite a nice way of moving it on," said artist Pete Majendie.

The two-year lease on the site has ended and there was nowhere else for the chairs to go.

"I think we've sort of ran our course really, I think it was really important in the early days," said Majendie.

The Empty Chairs were created to represent the lives lost in the Christchurch earthquake on February 22, 2011.

"It's not necessarily the chair is the person, it's the absence of the person," Majendie explained.

Bruce McEachen, who lost his son in the earthquake, will be sad to see the installation go.

"The white chairs have been a significant part of the healing process for the families and for the wider Canterbury community," he said.

The chairs were first installed at the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church site in 2012, then moved near the CTV building site later that year.

Since 2021, they have sat on the old St Luke's Anglican Church site. Now the artwork will be dispersed across Canterbury.

"We've got the perfect spot in the garden for this, that we're gonna pop it and sit in it while that's still usable and then once it starts breaking and decaying we'll let the decay take over like the artist intended and see what grows from it," said one ceremony attendee.

"I'm still deciding, I'm still looking, I haven't made up the choice yet," said another.

While a third person collecting a chair was doing it for the memories, "we had a friend that died in the earthquakes as well, so it will kind of remind me of him".

In another symbolic gesture, Pete Majendie carved a tiny chair out of a kanuka tree and set fire to it - marking the end of the 185 chairs sitting together.

A time that Cantabrians will never forget.