Metaphors and a sense of danger
Artist Markus Copper (1968–2019) is best known for his large, spatially dominating works that feature sounds, mechanical movement or light. Many of his works are commentary on human behaviour, morality and mindscape.
Copper was a socially engaged artist whose work explored disasters through metaphor. The large works Estonia (2006) and Kursk (2004) encapsulate the collective dread generated by the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia and that of the nuclear submarine Kursk. Constructed of leather jackets and a rowboat, the mechanical installation Whaling Station (2009) reacts to motion by performing a movement that evokes the skinning of a whale.
“Markus Copper wanted his dramatic sculptures to highlight the forces that govern life, the constant tension between destruction and creativity, the fact that art can explore the darkest aspects of life and society on a symbolic level. The sense of threat in his works evokes turning points, the fragility of life, fractures and transience.”– Leevi Haapala, Museum Director
Especially in the early stages of his career, Copper sought to impart a sense of threat to his work, and some of his early pieces even involved a dimension of actual danger. A case in point is Sixpack of Instant Death (1995), which consisted of six sculptural objects that Copper gave to his friends. The objects were designed to explode when linked together. In 2020, the police tracked down the work’s missing components, which have since been rendered harmless.
Iconic pieces and unknown works
The exhibition also includes Copper’s best-known work, a whale sculpture entitled Archangel of Seven Seas (1998). Part of the Kiasma collection today, the iconic piece is one of the museum’s most cherished artworks. A key component of the work is a set of organ pipes from the church of Kotka that play a low, rumbling “whale song”.
Many of Copper’s works have been dismantled or lost. They are presented in the exhibition in the form of drawings, sketches and documentary material. With the help of the artist’s family and friends, Kiasma has succeeded in recovering and partly conserving several works, including the sculptures Whaling Station (2006), South Pacific Execution (2007) and The Khyber Pass (2014), as well as a variation of the sculpture Circle of Brothers (2011–2012). These are all now accessioned to the collection of the Finnish National Gallery.
Also included in the show are rarely screened video documentaries about the artist from the 1990s.
Copper was also a prolific and skilful draughtsman. The show includes several of his drawings from various museum collections, including his last suite, Roadside Picnic (2019), which is part of the Kiasma collection.
In connection with the exhibition, a book presenting Markus Copper’s art will be published in cooperation with Kiasma and Parvs Publishing Ltd. The richly illustrated publication offers fresh perspectives on the artist’s production by several authors.