BUTTON, BUTTON, WHO HAS MY BUTTON?
A button is a small roundish object that we all take for granted. It has been around for generations, comes in all kinds of materials from the most luxurious jeweled to beautiful shell and pearl to the most mundane and utilitarian. Buttons made from seashell were used in the Indus Valley Civilization thousands of years ago, and may have been more ornamental than practical. Functional buttons with buttonholes for clothes appeared in the 13th century in Germany and soon became widespread, and industrially manufactured. Before zippers, buttons fastened every part of a garment; elegant rows of tiny buttons are used on wedding gowns; sleeves and collars have buttons; shirts and pants have buttons, even hats and shoes have buttons. Their use and variety have no limits. It is just surprising that this ubiquitous little object has not found its way into an artist’s repertoire (beyond the occasional button added to a collage or assemblage) before Augusto Esquivel decided to make them the objects of his affection and artwork, and take them beyond the mundane into new aesthetic realms and give them a new role and context.
Undoubtedly, Esquivel has some affinity for compulsive orderliness and collecting. He has collected thousands of buttons and arranged, strung, and reconfigured them in remarkable ways, yet they never lose their identification as buttons. He makes us consider the button in a new way – buttons are round, colorful, have little holes for sewing, can be suspended, and take on a completely new character strung for his works and installations.
His fascination with buttons began with his grandmother’s sewing box, where he saw them small and insignificant, but also precious and unique when they become part of something else. The button has allowed him to bring order out of their disarray – imagine piles of buttons waiting to be organized and strung. Each little thing becomes part of a whole, which he compares to atoms in a molecule and the reordering of chaos. This modular approach to the creation of his artwork informs everything he makes, but the added element of the string and the effect of suspension is what gives the work its uniqueness as the buttons become suspended, moving through space and constantly changing due to the effects of air and light and how they play with his careful arrangements meticulously ordered out of buttons. They force us to reconsider that tiny little object for its formal and symbolic qualities, so important to a discussion of art. A button is a circle, the perfect shape. A button is also far less serious – a button is fun.
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