In His Latest Solo Exhibition, Magnus Pettersen’s Glass Orbs Evoke a Sense of Metaphysical Disturbance

There are some designers who find the challenge in mastering a new material both exhilarating and necessary. But there are others for whom a fascination with certain materials is lifelong, their satisfaction arising from exactly how far they can push and how wildly different each application can be. The Norwegian designer Magnus Pettersen seems to fall firmly into the latter category, with the contrast between cold metals and the warm tones of pigmented concrete having defined his work — often created in combination with his partner Lea Hein — for nearly a decade. Here is that iconic combo in its first appearance on Sight Unseen, back in a Stockholm round-up from 2015, looking slightly more shaggy and assemblage-focused; here it is again a few years later in perhaps our favorite application, a series of colorful tiles paired with the thinnest wisps of mirror-polished steel, fashioned into mirrors or delicate seats. (The couple’s most major departure from this palette in fact came courtesy of us, when we we asked them to translate their signature aesthetic into a rug with Edward Fields.)

In Pettersen’s latest solo exhibition, which was on view at QB Gallery in Oslo last month, a new series of sculptures was presented, which purport, per the press materials, to transgress the boundary between artworks and functional objects. But that isn’t remotely the most interesting thing about the pieces; pretty much everything published on this site at this point achieves that with equal aplomb. For us, the most interesting thing is the addition of wood, yes, especially in brilliantly tinted hues like emergency orange. But more important is the inclusion of tiny glass orbs, perched on the arms or backs or smack dab in the middle of several of the seats, which sometimes prevent the pieces from being functional objects at all. Why are they there? What is their meaning? Has Pettersen recently discovered astrology? The exhibition is called “Vitality and Self-Interest,” a title inspired by a philosophy book from 2009 called Vibrant Matter, “which explores man in relation to his surroundings and the vital force inherent in material formations;” in it, the author, Jane Bennet, “examines the political and theoretical implications of vital materialism through extended discussions of commonplace things and physical phenomena including stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal, and trash.” So yes, it’s possible that Pettersen simply has gotten very into glass-blowing lately. But it’s also possible that the glass orbs are at the metaphysical crux of this exhibition. Sometimes it’s more fun not to know for certain, which would surely be the case if we were simply a visitor to the exhibition rather than a journalist rooting out its backstory. And whichever the case may be, the pieces have already helped to minutely shift my consciousness in the course of writing this article alone, clearly! We hope that they do for you as well.