Anna Pesonen has lived many lives, that of a fashion editor, image director, stylist and now sculptor. Artistic at heart, Pesonen does not view art merely as a means of beauty or aesthetics, but rather as a conduit for conversation, thought-provocation or even cultural and societal dissection, which is exactly what she’s accomplished in her “DISCOURSE” series.
Having a strong portfolio in the creative field – she has worked with the likes of Maison Margiela, Off-White, Nike, A-COLD-WALL* – creating her own art series, specifically rooted in sculpture, felt like a natural progression for Pesonen. Today, we caught up with the artist to talk about her INTROSPECTION SEAT 001 and DIALOGUE SEAT 002, the importance of self-awareness and her process of learning the art form of sculpting in Italy.
Hey Anna ! How’s it going? Where are your travels taking you to today?
Hey ! I’m doing great, thank you! I’m usually found in the triangle between London, Paris and Milan. This time it’s Paris.
Image director, stylist, former fashion editor and now sculptor, you really do it all. What pushed you to get into sculpting now?
I’d say it has been a long time coming. The confluence of conceptual art and design feels like the best way to communicate my ideas at the moment and to contribute something of value at the same time. Generally, I move towards new things quite intuitively but with time, so when something that I haven’t done before really pulls me towards it, it’s an urge that’s really impossible to ignore but at the same time, in the beginning it doesn’t always feel entirely clear even to myself what I’m supposed to make of it. At this stage it’s very easy to give into the imposter syndrome – “how am I imagining I will be making marble sculptures now?” Here I’ll start researching and immersing myself with the subject in order to make sense of what it is that “wants” to come to life.
Regardless of the genre, it all contributes to the body of my work at large as a multidisciplinary creative. Crisscrossing across areas is naturally how I think – and how I work in fashion as well; I was never a stylist who focused only on the clothes. For me it’s natural and important to be an active part of almost every aspect of a shoot or show, from concept and direction of photography to casting and sometimes all the way to for example sound or light design, or even on brand strategy, identity, team building, production behind the scenes… There’s a couple of other areas the work with sculpture will expand to as well – in its own time.
Where did you learn the craft?
In Pietrasanta, Tuscany Italy. The marble for Michelangelo, Henry Moore, Noguchi, and Jean Arp came from the same quarries. It has become one of my unofficial second homes. The local artisans have been incredibly supportive of this quite unorthodox way of working and learning, which has been great. It’s a very male-dominated area but people have taken me seriously and treated my vision with respect, even when I wanted to take the sculptures (which weigh 400 kg in total) to the top of the mountain, back to their origin at the marble quarry to be photographed and filmed!
Tell me a little bit about your DISCOURSE series, which already sees the INTROSPECTION SEAT 001 and DIALOGUE SEAT 002 on display.
The DISCOURSE series is my debut in art and design, and in taking full reigns as a creative director. INTROSPECTION SEAT and DIALOGUE SEAT will later be accompanied by a few additional pieces which will form part of the series, so I’ll be exploring the same themes (such as our human need for community in these divided times) through other art works masked as furniture.
Your pieces are made to combat “the challenges our global community faces” which includes “the effects of intensification of divisive politics, misinformation media, growing separation, solastalgia”. Why did you want to address these issues specifically?
I would say they are less designed to ‘combat’ the challenges, more time to face the challenges… From my perspective, those are the major issues that are leaving a lot of us in our generation feeling hopeless and confused about the future and even about today. There seems to be no blueprint for adulting for our generation, as our lives are vastly different from previous generations, and with the rapid development of technology and AI, it seems to be impossible to even predict what the right direction would be. My conclusion was that we need unity. We’ll always be more similar than we are different, even with the person who would represent things that I could never agree with.
With your sculptures, you manage to merge functionality with aesthetics, turning an inanimate object into a conduit for conversation – at least when the two seats are placed against one another for DIALOGUE SEAT 002. Was the idea of a conversation-sparking piece always there?
Absolutely. For me that’s what art is for – not just a decoration but a means of communication and a language, which hopefully makes you stop, think, question, feel something. Communication is a fascinating subject, as it’s obviously our connected tissue as humans. We need to communicate to get ahead. And for hundreds of thousands of years, we only communicated in person, but in just the past fifty years we’ve also started communicating online. Today, people communicate more online than offline. What does this shift mean for humans?
The heightened polarity with something so vital to us is fascinating to me – how the quantity of the tools to communicate with has grown exponentially yet the quality of our interactions and therefore our wellbeing has declined because apparently we as humans are just scratching the surface we communicate virtually; based on Mehrabi’s studies, only 7% of communication comes from the words itself – 55% is facial expressions/body language and 38% from tone of voice. So if we are missing 93% of the other layers, does our language eventually start forming towards a place where we can indicate tone with obvious visual symbols such as emojis as part of the official language…?
Nowadays we’re so used to using our phones as “a crutch”, to fill a moment of idleness by immediately reaching for our phones, and it can feel almost alien or at least awkward for two humans to just sit together, close to each other with no other distractions. Although by doing that, on this seat, I believe it would strip us from some of the guards we have built around us and expose the vulnerability. I was thinking about the possibilities and breakthroughs that could occur if a seat for two people would be placed in rooms which we occupy with other people but we don’t necessarily actively spend time together, or possibly in rooms where contentious conversations would take place.
Your first creation, INTROSPECTION SEAT 001, is all about self-reflection before even starting that dialogue with another person. How do you tend to self-reflect and meditate? Do you have a preferred routine, setting, soundtrack to accompany the process?
On point. Self awareness is the key, the foundation to healthier relationships. It’s like the safety instruction on flights; “put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others”. For me that looks like many things and I see it as a lifelong process. It also looks like a routine that isn’t rigid – it’s more like a set of tools to access depending on what feels right for a certain period – from taking that 10 minutes every morning to meditate really consistently for 7 months and then naturally switching it to something else and back again. The only constant for me is that I love spending time on my own, exploring something that might seem so random but leads back to question number one. The Sauna is obviously a place of contemplation for a Finn. I do always end my days with a few thoughts of gratitude just to ground myself.
How long did it take you to create these sculptures, from initial brainstorming to production?
It’s been a long process, as there was so much thinking to do to lay the foundations for me to embark on this project. I would say it was around a year from conception to completion.
Did you have any visual inspirations in mind whilst working on your DISCOURSE series? Or wider artists or concepts that informed your artistic journey?
My visual inspirations are sort of fixed, and by that I mean that I am still inspired by some of the same larger concepts or bodies of work I discovered maybe ten years ago. I recently discovered a hard drive from 2013 which included a massive research folder and links to articles I wanted to read about, and it was like looking inside my head today which I found quite surprising in some ways as I am constantly exposed to new pieces of art, images, clothes, places, etc but everything in that folder had been chosen so intuitively and it was like a formation of my core aesthetic. Pinpointing that creative tribe is important as those artists can be mentors even if you never end up meeting them. So although all of that still inspires and informs me, I’m set out to create my own form. That is really important to me.
Your DISCOURSE series is an ongoing project, with more drops set to come out throughout the year. What can you tell us about what’s to come?
As you can see, I’ve got a lot of questions about our times so the series will be exploring the discourse we could or perhaps should be having, and how that could be facilitated through spaces and functional sculpture. The scale will be bigger as I’m moving into questions around community after exploring introspection and tandem interactions. I’m also working on a physical exhibition and a book, as well as a new film in an incredible location I’ve been obsessing over for years now.
More on CULTED