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ai weiwei sunflower seeds
courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery

Ai Weiwei offers to save 30 tonnes of buttons from landfill

But what does he plan to do with them?

A button factory closing down in Croydon might not usually be a newsworthy topic, but when Ai Weiwei gets involved there might be something more interesting going on. The artist has responded to a tweet calling for 30 tonnes of the factory’s buttons to be saved from landfill, simply asking: “Can I take them all?”

The initial tweet, from Amy Clare Tasker, gives a bit more information on why the buttons need rescuing. “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,” she writes. Seems like a pretty unique opportunity to get your hands on the materials – which come in plastic, metal, glass, pearl, and wood – in such a massive quantity.

But what is Ai Weiwei planning to do with the buttons? Well the artist has previously made installations out of millions of handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds – Sunflower Seeds (2010) – as well as working with massive amounts of Lego bricks and shells. It seems like if anyone were to do something with all 30 tonnes of buttons, he’d be the man for the job.

Of course, Twitter also provided suggestions for what to do with them.

According to The Independent, Brown & Co Buttons are aware of Ai Weiwei’s response. However Sarah Janalli, from the company, adds that they’ve been “inundated” and “overwhelmed” by responses from a variety of people, so Ai Weiwei might not get 100% of what he asked for.

“We know for sure that no buttons will go into landfill,” Janalli says, though. “Which is amazing.” That’s a win for the environment, if not for the art world.