Canterbury Earthquakes

Heart on fence of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Lyttelton, July 2011 Photograph by BeckerFraserPhotos. CC BY-NC 3.0 CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive.

Claire Regnault, Remembering the Canterbury Earthquakes, Te Papa blog, 20 February 2015

This Sunday marks the fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that shook the city of Christchurch, claiming the lives of 185 people and changing those of thousands of residents in ways that it is often hard to conceive unless experienced. In Te Papa’s commemorative display (20 February to 22 March 2015), we remember those who passed away, and those who are rebuilding their lives and communities.

The inspiration for the display came from this image of a red fabric heart attached to a fence, with the word ‘REMEMBER’ chain-stitched across it in gold. Remember. While Cantabrians live with reminders of the earthquakes and the havoc they have wrought on a daily basis, it is all too easy to forget from a distance. We ask people to take some time to remember, to empathise, and to appreciate the hard-won gains that have been made in the city over the last four years during this anniversary period.

The heart image is the first in an AV sequence of photographs drawn from the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive, which is based at the University of Canterbury. CEISMIC are building a comprehensive digital archive of video, audio, documents and images related to the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. As they say it’s ‘not just about the shaking, but also about the struggles, the chaos and the creativity that followed.’ We have tried to reflect that in our selection of just under 50 photographs, the majority of which have been taken by Canterbury residents between 2010 and the present. They are very real reminders of the immense scale of the disaster, the local and international response, the wealth of community spirit and creative ingenuity that has flourished in Christchurch, and most amazingly the ability of people to maintain a sense of humour.

The AV ends with a photograph of Peter Majendie’s temporary memorial installation, 185 Empty Chairs. This is one of many beautiful memorials featured in the AV. The white chairs, diverse in form and purpose, represent the uniqueness of the lives of those who died as a result of the 22 February earthquake. While Peter purchased many of the chairs off Trade Me, others were donated by local businesses and families of earthquake victims. Steve Hannen, a survivor of the Cave Creek disaster of 1995, also donated his wheel chair – a moving and important reminder of those disabled by the earthquakes.

In 2014 the installation became the inspiration and setting for a dance piece by Elizabeth Guthrey. For Guthrey, dance can ‘tell stories of loss and hope… Within one space, different emotions and forms can take place’. Peter Majendie’s installation provided such a space for In Memory of Loved Ones‘ ( which you can watch here through the CEISMIC archive).

Elizabeth Guthrey’s Christchurch dance pieces, along with an extraordinary rich archive of imagery, stories and new knowledge about the Canterbury earthquakes can all be found in the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive, an initiative which Te Papa is proud to be involved with as a partner.

If you would like to share your stories or images of the Canterbury Earthquakes you can contact the CEISMIC team here.

 Remember: The Canterbury Earthquakes is on display at Te Papa until 22 March 2015.