Have you ever wondered how many buttons are in a ton? Fair, me either. However, it’s somewhere around 9 million. As of a few days ago, it seems artist Ai Weiwei may be interested in not just one but thirty tons. That means, he might be adding buttons to the ranks of Legos and ceramic sunflower seeds, which he’s used in other installations. It all came about when a South London button factory took to Twitter to get rid of their entire stock of buttons.
After over 100 years in business, A. Brown & Co Buttons in Croydon, south London will be closing its doors after a serious slump in sales. To owner Stuart Brown, it looked like they could be forced to throw away all the unsold stock sitting in their warehouse. Brown was unsure if they would be able to sell their supply, which would come in about $1.5 million if sold at full price, but if nothing else, he hoped to give the buttons away with help from the Twitter-sphere.
So, on March 7th, on behalf of A. Brown & Co Buttons, Amy Clare Tasker (@AmyClareTasker) made the initial announcement saying:
I’ve been asked to share this call to save buttons from landfill. Please RT!
Brown & Co Buttons (a 104-year-old button factory in Croydon) needs to dispose of 30 TONNES of buttons as the factory is shutting down.’
The Tweet has since been retweeted over 5,000 times and replied to over 400 times, one of which happened to be Ai, himself, asking if he could actually have all the buttons.
Just two days after Tasker’s original Tweet, the company announced that they had safely homed all the unsold buttons and none would be going to landfills. Sarah Janalli, sister-in-law of Brown, told The Independent, that they had been ‘inundated’ with inquiries about the buttons. ‘We’re trying to get through all the emails, sell what we can. We know for sure that no buttons will go into landfill, which is amazing.’ She also confirmed that they had in fact seen the Tweet from Ai but he hadn’t yet been in contact.
Ai, now exiled from China and living in Berlin, has consistently created provocative artworks. In 2010, he created Sunflower Seeds for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall reflecting on the relationship between the individual and the masses. In 2003, Ai created Forever Bicycle, which riffed off the Forever Cycle brand manufactured in Singapore since the 1940s. The mass-produced bikes symbolize notions of copying and assembly in China. Recently, Ai created a segment for Berlin, I Love You, part of the Cities of Love franchise. It was unexpectedly cut, though,
Though speculation over what Ai plans to do with the buttons (if he’s receiving any of them) have run wild, there really isn’t any telling what he might have in store for them.