Speculative Citizen Design
research project

Open Call

Silent Object Protests

In the face of restaurant, theatre and event venue closures – while offices, schools and churches were allowed to remain open – silent protests without people were staged around the world. Creating strong visual statements, empty chairs were placed in grids and forming messages when seen from above, in public squares of capitals and smaller towns. At first representing economic losses ensuing from the restrictions, chair and other ‘object protests’ were enacted for a variety of pandemic-related causes.

A set-up of a reported 20.000 chairs near the White House was symbolic for the 200.000 Covid-related deaths in the United States and a further 13.000 in front of the German parliament were set-up to represent those in the overcrowded Greek emergency camp Moria. Similar protests were held across the globe, with many groups also using shoes to represent absent protesters. These silent protests serve to create public awareness and intervene in the public space via participatory processes. They become an extension and placeholder for a variety of humans, often expressed in designed objects reflecting the diversity of the public. The design of these objects and of their arrangement take on a communicative and symbolic function that portrays an image of unity and cohesion.

Intervention, Ritual, Isolation, Social Design, Participatory Processes

Further reading:
AMNA. “Greek restaurants join European 'empty chairs' protest over fallout from Covid-19 pandemic.” Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA), 22 May 2020
Andrew, Scottie. “Covid-19 survivors set up 20,000 empty chairs near the White House to remember the more than 200,000 coronavirus victims” CNN, 05 October 2020
Lang, Marissa J. “Nurses returned to the White House to read the names of colleagues killed by the coronavirus. The number has doubled.” Washington Post, 08 May 2020