Just as art relies on fashion, fashion finds its counterpart in art. While this concept might raise queries for some, its essence remains uncomplicated. This intertwined dynamic, nurturing both domains, has persisted since ancient times. Though there are moments when the connection appears more distant, the creative ethos that binds these two worlds remains unbroken. Ultimately, it’s the shared intent and craftsmanship that weave them together.
Of course, the clarity of this relationship varies among observers—some perceive it vividly, while others grasp it vaguely. Venturing into the transitional space between these practices demands courage. Anna Pesonen, a multidisciplinary creative working predominantly as a stylist, image director and brand consultant, has wholeheartedly embraced this challenge. She thrives in the open expanse art offers, particularly in the realm of sculpture, where enduring qualities and tradition hold sway.
Her concrete creations serve as conduits for a dynamic dialogue—both as active provocateurs and receptive interpreters. Her “DISCOURSE” series, which include “INTROSPECTION SEAT 001” and “DIALOGUE SEAT 002,” effortlessly exude modernity, a timeless quality undoubtedly destined to withstand the test of time—something she attributes to her distinct Finnishness. Whether styling backstage, in her studio, or directing a shoot, the creativity nurtured in Pesonen effortlessly traverses disciplinary confines.
Her marble earthworks will soon be exhibited at Design Miami, in both Paris and Miami editions, yet right before this, we had the opportunity to talk to Anna about the intricate interplay between art, fashion and the enigmatic space that lies in between.
As someone who has worked as an image director, stylist and fashion editor before transitioning into sculpting, what does art and design offer that fashion doesn’t?
The most significant difference is that art grants the freedom of a blank slate. I really wanted to build a practice that facilitates my ability to create freely, allowing me to explore and express anything that wants to materialize through this vessel without being limited to one medium. So much of this practice is a result of feeling limited in how to tell my story. Building this allows me to explore existential inquiries about our times or to seek a deeper understanding of myself and the world we inhabit—but also simultaneously show up and connect with the collective in an authentic and even vulnerable way.
I’m interested in a large scale when it comes to sculpture, and there’s probably a connection to that monolithic permanence, or at least longevity, which also feels very comforting to me, whereas fashion, in my mind, is very mutable by its definition.
Do you think fashion and art can co-exist?
I think they already are; art and fashion have a long history of influencing each other. There have been numerous fashion collections inspired by artwork, as well as collaborations between artists and fashion brands. Fashion shows often blur the lines between fashion and performance. Both can reflect the cultural and historical context of a society. Fashion, to me personally, feels more immediate—it can be a great way of communicating one’s identity and aspirations, and the way we dress can serve as a form of psychological armor, influencing perception. On the other hand, art transcends the tangible and extends beyond the physical realm.
What inspires you?
I’m really inspired by a broad spectrum of research, from sound to sociology to ancient civilizations, especially the Egyptian, Mayan and Incan civilizations, and their interconnectedness to time and space, as well as their deep understanding of the natural world and celestial phenomena. I’m also intrigued by architectural psychology and how spaces and environments can profoundly affect us. Given our heightened sensitivity to our surroundings, I’m interested in exploring how manipulating environmental elements can potentially lead to transformative and meaningful experiences.
My approach is to explore in a multidisciplinary way, drawing upon a wide range of research from various fields and incorporating those insights together. I’m always inspired by women and individuals who fearlessly live as their true selves. Moreover, there’s something about the interrupted, liminal time during a flight that inspires me to think clearly. Since I fly almost weekly, I often feel quite inspired by something, and I’m able to jot down those thoughts clearly in my notes, aided by really loud music in the headphones.
Tell us about your journey in the design world. What motivated you to venture into the world of sculpting?
Expanding the creative practice to sculpture was very organic, actually. I have always been obsessed with sculpture, land art and spaces with a certain transformative quality. As I mentioned, human sociology and psyche fascinate me, and sculpting felt like an obvious medium to explore and express all the questions and thoughts around those themes. It was a very intuitive journey.
How did you refine and develop your skills in the medium?
I refined and developed my skills in sculpting by working in a marble sculpting studio in Italy for two summers, collaborating with skilled artisans and stonemasons. It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience, as we worked together and learned from each other in the process. The actual act of sculpting itself is challenging for me in many ways, and some days I feel completely fearful of the power tools.
Could you describe your creative process and how you approach your work?
My creative process is quite start and stop. The creative urges come in bursts with high energy and a really clear vision. During these times, I usually gather a team around me to bring my ideas to life and support me with the technical aspects, such as creating models of sculptures or designing digital spaces. Since I don’t have the technical ability to create 3D models as quickly as I’d like, working with talented and incredible creatives on these different parts is a blessing. It makes me happy to find people whose work resonates with mine and vice versa.
My approach to work is intuitive but relentless. I am very hands-on with everything because I’ve already envisioned the end result in my mind. While I am open to collaboration, there are always some elements that are entirely specific to my vision. I work all the time, but I also allow myself space to float and stretch time when I feel the need to be more present in the world and less in my thoughts. I purposefully surround myself with people, spaces, books and things that inspire me, even on those days when inspiration doesn’t come easy.
I think it goes back to my fascination with the concept of time. It’s incredible to me that time, in a way, formed the material by metamorphosing other rocks under intense pressure and heat. Especially when sculpting, that energy is really palpable in the material, I feel. Marble is an impractical choice, and that’s also part of the fascination, especially in our time which is so much about the facade of things and easy access. Working with marble requires dedication, both from the artist and from the beholder of the piece as well.
Do you believe in art or artists?
Definitely. Art is a reflection of society and culture, and I think it also plays an important role in passing on knowledge from one generation to another, as well as recording history. We just need to make sure that the history recorded is not altered by the forces that currently try to change the narrative, such as politics, for example. So, art also has an important role in social change.
What is your concept of beauty?
Confidence and authenticity.
Is furniture, for you, a bridge for “discourse”?
In “DISCOURSE,” the marble seats are imagined as conduits for communication—with ourselves and others. I believe in the immense potential of humans, but we need to recognize the need for growth, empathy and continuous learning in these times when we’re faced with growing separation due to disinformation and rapidly advancing technology distancing us from each other, behind screens.
Tell us about your pieces, “INTROSPECTION SEAT 001” and “DIALOGUE SEAT 002.” Do they complement each other like yin and yang?
Yes, that core concept of two opposite but interconnected forces together—receptive and active—and the notion of not being able to have one without the other is definitely at the heart of the works. “INTROSPECTION SEAT 001,” which one person can occupy, is imagined to serve as a vehicle for self-reflection. “DIALOGUE SEAT 002” is designed for two people, as a site for close-knit, face-to-face, shared social discourse.
I feel that without self-awareness, it’s very challenging, if not impossible, to show up authentically in the world and contribute to society in the best possible way, or to find your place in the world and the fulfillment that comes from that. The seats are symbols and tools to discover and become closer to each other and ourselves, and therefore to everything that surrounds us. Not knowing and understanding one another distances us from nature, leading to the unfortunate consequence of humans persistently polluting our planet despite having all the data.
Would you say minimalism is evident in your work?
I attribute the essentialism to my Finnish roots and design ancestors, and a culture that is quite similar to Japanese culture when it comes to appreciating the richness in simplicity and “emptiness.” Growing up with Artek and Alvar Aalto’s buildings, but also with traditional Finnish architecture, such as a kota, has really shaped my interest in minimal shapes.
What’s the most honest aspect of yourself that your art reflects?
The vulnerability that is required to expose deep thoughts and emotions. Since I was a young girl, I have remembered envisioning a more compassionate and just world. I was inspired to see artists creating worlds that promote those ideals, no matter how abstract they may be. The most protected aspects of myself are the ones I delve into when creating the work, and sharing that can definitely involve a lot of fear. However, it’s simultaneously empowering when you go for it anyway and learn to integrate fear into the process.
How do you infuse your unique touch—the “Pesonen” essence—into your sculptures?
We all possess our own distinct flavor, a fusion of our interests, experiences and aspirations. The sculptures I create are a medley of my interests, ranging from architecture and music to psychology and spatial design. They are also adorned with a touch of Finnishness, achieved by purposefully minimizing extraneous elements to their essential minimum.
What lies ahead?
The pieces in “DISCOURSE” will be exhibited at Design Miami in both Paris and Miami. Additionally, I will be holding a solo exhibition in Paris in 2024, featuring new artworks and a book. I am very excited to share these upcoming projects. I am also currently working on my directorial debut for a short art film.