Button Phobia: An exhibition by Penny Leaver Green
Harvey Nichols, Bristol - 29th January to 28th February 2010
Private View: Thursday 28th January 18.30 - 20.30
Fear over Function: an extreme reaction to an everyday object
In a new exhibition at Harvey Nichols in Bristol, Penny Leaver Green explores the fear of buttons (koumpounophobia) and investigates an extreme reaction to an everyday object.
The pictures in the exhibition are divided into three sections: the first focusing on a specific button phobic and her responses to images of buttons sent to her; the second dealing with thousands of online confessionals about button phobia, as other phobics find they are not alone; and the third based on a piece of clinical research into the treatment of button phobics:
Disgust and a specific phobia of buttons by Lisette M Saavedra & Wendy Silverman Phd. - (Publ J.Am.Acad Chils adoles. Psychiatry Nov 2002 -
But where did this idea come from? Penny explains: “I was given a box of buttons by a friend. They had belonged to her mother-in-law who had recently died and she didn’t know what to do with them. They were made for an enormous range of garments from a huge variety of materials. I spent ages categorising them based on size, colour, age etc. It was compulsive.”
It was whilst discussing the button box and her reaction to it that Penny discovered the button phobic that she later used for her research: “She explained to me how she had often given her grandmother’s button box to play with by her mother, and that she had been repelled by it.”
Penny then decided to explore exactly what it was about buttons which upset her: “I was fascinated and wanted to understand her reaction to the aesthetic qualities of the button: size, colour, design, material. I sent her pictures of buttons and asked her to comment on specific buttons and to put them in an order of repulsion.”
The language used in her responses was strong - for example “disgusting” or “repugnant” - and our subject had a specific psychological disgust for plain, plastic buttons with four holes “harbouring dirt”.
Through the internet Penny found many more koumpounophobics: “having found one button phobic in person I found thousands more online, all commenting on their own repulsion. There were similarities in their response but also idiosyncracies, yet very few could explain where the phobia had come from”.
Sue Stone, General Manager of Harvey Nichols Bristol comments: “When Penny contacted us we were struck by her work and felt that Harvey Nichols was the perfect place for the exhibition. Each button has a history and is representative of a design trend, or a particular era, they tell us about the quality of the garment and the type of occasion for which it was made. The extreme reaction to an object which is so everyday but yet so revealing of time or fashion is strangely compelling.”
Harvey Nichols Bristol
Bristol BS1 3BZ
For reference :
For more information or high resolution images, please contact:
Penny Leaver Green at:
6 Leonard Lane
Button Phobia is supported by Bottle Green