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Antony Gormley on Buttons

“Buttons are pesky things, so much a part of dressing and undressing that there is a rite of passage in childhood when you must become competent to fasten your own clothing. The delicacy of touch and the finger control necessary to button and unbutton are later on entangled in the twin tensions of desire and propriety. Yet buttons now seem to have given over much of their liminal gate-holding to the zip; the fingers, struggling to open or close the shirt replaced by a single eviscerating action.

I wanted my buttons to express the story of their making and the nature of the material out of which they were made, so the cracking at the edge of the black porcelaine clay and the traces of my fingerprint pressed against their surface are key, acting as connections to buttoning and unbuttoning and making its sensation more acute: present, meant and active.

Buttons are so often used as badges and treated as useful surfaces for the reinforcement of tribe, regiment, school, club or profession. I want them in their role as fasteners and unfasteners. I recently bought two Khadi Bhavan shirts in India that have coconut buttons that stand like dark acupuncture points on the surface of the white linen.

Front-facing punctuation marks on the surface of our clothes, buttons indicate the viscera: locations of vulnerability and the need to defend and protect them. My black porcelain discs can can be gatekeepers in this role.

The button is a universal, found in all cultures and at all times, since the first weaving of cloth in the Neolithic. I want to honour its origin as a companion to us furless animals. I hope in some way that these simple objects remind us of our vulnerability, but also give us joy in the intimacy of covering and uncovering.

Antony Gormley

Photo: Garlinda Birkbeck