30 May 2023

Anna Pesonen on sculpting human interaction in the face of divisiveness

The multidisciplinary creative's new marble works feature at the centre of her new series, ‘DISCOURSE’. 

Anna Pesonen plays the field of creativity. The image director, stylist and creative consultant, and now sculptor nonetheless, carries not only a repertoire of varied and diverse pieces of work, Pesonen also has names like Off-White, Maison Margiela, Nike, A-Cold-Wall*, Rimowa and more to her name. 

Pesonen’s most recent project sits at the intersection between fashion and visual art, which mines at themes of communication, interaction and human relationships. The project, entitled DISCOURSE, is built up of a series of collectable marble sculptures that have all been handmade in the north-west of Italy. Against the backdrop of a marble quarry in the Apuan Alps, Pesonen presents her marble pieces to work in unison with not only their surroundings, but also with technology and the people who interact with them. 

“As the series reflects on some of the challenges our global community faces (the effects of intensification of divisive politics, misinformation media, growing separation, solastalgia) I am proposing sculpture as a site and a vehicle for introspection and dialogue, even when views are opposed,” Pesonen says. “My vision for discourse was to create sculptures which are not merely passive objects but instead embody a transformative metaphysical function.”

DISCOURSE includes two sculptures that use natural materials to craft interactive pieces that promote communication, contemplation and human relationships. The first, ‘introspection seat 001’, is a marble seat suitable for one user that facilitates a space for self-reflection. DISCOURSE’s second piece, ‘dialogue seat 002’, is a modern take on the ‘loveseat’ from the Victorian era – individual seats that are joined together at the centre that allow the users to just about face one another from the side.

With creating anything that feels entirely natural, the addition of people to interact with the pieces often feels alien. However Pesonen has created works that welcome you in and promote interactions with not only the natural world, but also with each other.  

HUNGER spoke with Pesonen to discuss the importance of working with marble in this instance, the issues that threaten the global community, and working from a place of authenticity… 

Hey, Anna! Firstly, why did you want to make these marble sculptural works?

Anna Pesonen: The confluence of conceptual art and design feels like the best way to communicate my ideas at the moment and to contribute with something of value at the same time.

The project is called DISCOURSE – what is the discourse that you are starting or contributing to with the work?

The DISCOURSE series reflects and explores some of the main challenges our global community is faced with today – themes such as the effects of intensification of divisive politics, misinformation media, growing separation, solastalgia and the effects of the rapid advancement of technology, AI and what it means to the social life of humans.

The single seat, INTROSPECTION SEAT 001 is named aptly, it is intended as a site for individual contemplation, whereas the DIALOGUE SEAT 002 creates a space for two people to engage in a face-to-face exchange in close proximity, which is rare in today’s digital world where people statistically communicate more virtually than offline. Physical interaction improves the physical and mental wellbeing of humans, and we crave that as a species. And the conversations we have alone, in order to deepen our understanding of ourselves and of our values are an invaluable part of us also being better individuals in a group setting. I think what both seats offer are valuable and even necessary symbols for the hope of a better future during a time where our collective is faced with so much uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

Why is that important to you at this point in time?

Art to me is a vessel to explore, communicate and reflect on the phenomena our global collective faces, what we go through individually as a result of societal issues, and currently I’m especially interested in the uncomfortable and confusing truths. Maybe exploring these questions through the work is my way of feeling like I have some sort of an agency over the future that so often feels uncertain.

How did you hope that the sculptures could work in harmony with their surroundings?

By occupying the sculptures, the seats, that action in itself creates a metaphysical space around the subjects and the seats. They could be placed outside in the middle of a desert, in a park, a small room with nothing else in it or outer space and instantly the shape and the action for what the seat is there for is recognisable for most humans. The DIALOGUE SEAT 002 automatically prompts humans to order themselves around the form of the seat, which includes two places for two people to sit on. From there the connection is formed and the discourse begins naturally, when we are this close to one and another.

Beyond specific design inspirations, what other areas of influence were you looking at whilst in the ideation process for the works?

I’m really interested in the development of AI whilst also being very invested in politics and psychology, so those are my main sources of inspiration, in addition to land art and dwellings.

What can you say about the intersection of fashion and your marble works?

The crossover is natural – I’ve worked in the fashion industry for a decade but simultaneously my interests, hobbies and studies since I was old enough to draw were always centred around creating a visual language and a form to follow that. I made my first magazine when I was 8 years old and I remember being so frustrated with not being able to get the graphic design as sleek as I wanted, as I was doing it by hand and comparing it to published magazines. Looking back at my thesis, which I thought was a photo book, I can see now it was creative direction – as I did everything from concept, photos, set and props, hair and make-up, casting, location scouting, retouching and graphic design of the book. This feels like a natural way for me to express myself. Art and fashion are means of communication for me.

What is it about the feelings that marble conjures up through both its colours and its feel that inspired you to work with it for the project?

I’m more inspired by the historical gravitas marble has as a material rather than its colour. Marble has always drawn me towards it because to me it’s magical how this material is formed basically by time being compressed together with matter – a product of everything that lived before. Marble also has very challenging qualities as it’s simultaneously a very hard and heavy yet extremely delicate material. You have to practise patience when working with it – if you take too much out, you cannot go back.

The works promote interaction with one another in some sense, such as the interpretation of the Victorian loveseat seat. Why was this important to you?

The seat is not so much an interpretation of a loveseat – as those were much more about upholding a sense of modesty between two individuals possibly interested in each other and spending time together in a public space. The DIALOGUE SEAT 002 shape was informed by the form of the Victorian seat however for me it was important to focus on the challenges the global community faces and what I felt like could be suggestions to improving the global issues – something as simple as communication, unity and self awareness, which I think always makes humans less judgemental about others.

At the same time, there’s something quite restrictive and stoic about the choice of marble as part of a conversation around interaction and embrace. Was this an intended reaction from what you wanted to create?

There’s symbolism around the extremely hard material as a vessel for softer values. Similarly, the challenges these works reflect on can feel hard at times but acknowledging and taking action on them most likely would lead to positive change. The seats should feel hard and in a way uncomfortable by some measure, similarly as the themes reflected on — that should make the experience of sitting on these seats more visceral and activate a certain awareness. Marble is a material that records the beauty in human error in a fantastic way. As a close look, each one has a few tiny “imperfections” which to me makes them also relate to the human condition.

There’s also a real sense of isolation within designs like these. The loveseat, for example, encourages conversation, but at the same time there is a distance and boundary between the subjects, almost like confession with a priest in a church. What do you think this might say about the types of interactions creations like yours could foster?

The form of the DIALOGUE SEAT 002 binds the two subjects together while simultaneously weaving itself in between them. To me that symbolises individuality of each subject more than distance per se — even though they are united by the seat, individual views will naturally exist. How that will play into each interaction the chairs facilitate depends on the individuals. I believe that the close physical proximity to the other person and options of either facing away from each other or directly eye to eye creates room for honesty and vulnerability.

How do you hope that people respond and react to your work in DISCOURSE?

Hopefully it’s something someone needed to see or hear today, prompting them to feel something. For better or worse. Hopefully it resonates, and hopefully it can inspire someone. Hopefully it can make someone feel like they have found someone who sees inside their mind. The reaction has been extremely positive so far but again, it’s just my view on a subject — even if someone doesn’t vibe with it, maybe they can appreciate the effort. Nothing is for everyone. But whenever I hear from people who do find the work meaningful to them, it’s delightful because, like I said, this is a language. Language unites people and whoever feels like they belong in this creative tribe with me, that’s a fantastic feeling. We all want to belong.

Finally, what more would you like people to know about your work?

That this is just the beginning. I’m creating with authenticity across several disciplines and the work is bigger than any pigeonhole.

  • Writer Ry Gavin
  • Images Courtesy of Anna Pesonen

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