To commemorate someone who has passed away is essentially to recall something of oneself. Death puts us, parlêtres, in touch with the singular and draws the unthinkable near. Confronted with death, beings in language quickly turn towards meaning, attempt communication there where it can only fail. It is so utterly humane to try to seal off that which ’breaks in’ with death, and what the speaking body cannot escape – the real.[1]

News about the unexpected death of a prominent Finnish sculptor Markus Copper (1968-2019) circulated in late May. Copper was respected for his colossal and often macabre mechanic sculptures in the contemporary art scene of North Europe. The sculptor, for whom at one time it had been necessary to test the limits of his own life through violent art interventions, had for years produced a solid set of work that took over this urge to act upon his body, and plugged him back into the social bond:

Yes, I do want to see what people see in and how they experience them. It is perhaps my way of being with people.[2]

The room is filled with massive rubbery diver figures holding large wrenches in their hands. They hang from the ceiling, created by a huge metallic structure. The figures wobble electronically against one another, and the metallic structure, creating a repetitive thumping, clanging and creaking sound that takes over the entire room. The experience is dreadful, and yet surprisingly peaceful. The noise goes on and on. (Kursk, 2004)

I first encountered Copper’s work when I was myself struggling with an illness. After treatments in the local hospital, I would wonder alone into the contemporary art museum that hosted an exhibition where Copper’s works were on display.[3] There, surrounded by the absurd and obscene sound created by his mechanic sculptures I would find silence: a momentary relief from having to account for the eruption that had taken over my life in its impossibility.

Copper’s major work always aimed to treat collective horror, in the face of a catastrophe, unexplained violence and ultimately death, in a simple and banal way. Kursk (2004) created an image of the sunken Russian nuclear-powered submarine, in vain the figures in diving suits bang the walls of the vessel at the bottom of the sea. Estonia (2006) depicted another maritime catastrophe of the Swedish-Estonian cruise ferry MS Estonia. The sculpture consists of a solitary DJ casted from wax. The figure plays cruise ferry disco songs while we know the ship is sinking.

To me Copper’s imagery failed to make any meaningful engagement with its topics in the absurd and naive simplicity he utilised. This attempt to communicate something of those collective horrors, be it politically, emotionally or intellectually, was never that interesting. But what was striking in his sculptures was how the failing level of signification, the routine of discourse, was always traversed by some ’extimate’ element, usually a harrowing sound. The sound makes no sense, takes over any effort of simple communication, or production of knowledge, and finally is what the spectator is left with. This way the sculptures reveal the inability of the effort to render the real with meaning. And sometimes when faced with such crude inability one can find a relief.

In the face of the real that does not carry any meaning, which is indifferent to meaning, the impossibility for the speaking being lies in the fact that all efforts to make sense, and thus take hold of such disruption within any previously established discursive order, are in vain. When the symbolic is rendered dormant, it can come untied from its knot (if there has been one) with the imaginary, leaving the speaking being with few options but to adhere to the real – with all the singular devastation that follows from such a position. But how is it possible to find any relief in such inability, without having to submit to debility or resort to delusion as solution to such impasse?[4]

To me the attraction in Copper’s work is how his sculptures allow one to embrace ’dupery’ in the encounter with an ultimate horror which his work attempts to force upon us, the inexplicability of death. Confronted first by their banal imagery, the spectator is further disjointed from any solid process of signification by the obscene and distinct sound made by his mechanic sculptures. The overall sound finally bears no relation to the depicted events, as they combine the necessary and random operational noise of the machines with those attempting to imitate specific sounds from the imagined reality. Here the spectator can find oneself utterly bemused, duped as if by a real for which there is no truth, to which no discourse allows any access, and which simply makes no sense. In such confrontation the relief lies in the ’lucidity’ that such realisation may offer.[5]


[1] François Ansermet describes death as one of the three dimensions where the subject is confronted with a real in his recently translated and published article, The Contemporary Body, Between Sense of Unease and Misunderstanding (The Lacanian Review, Issue 7, Spring 2019). My take on the real here makes reference to Ansermet’s articulation directly.

[2] Copper speaking about his sculptures in an interview titled Did artist Markus Copper deliberately saw his hand off? by Lauri Lehtinen published in Suomen Kuvalehti (16.1.2015).

[3] Exhibition titled Horror Vacui at Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki 2009.

[4] In her article Suggestion, Awakening, Dupery (The Lacanian Review, Issue 6, Fall 2018) Véronique Voruz underlines how for the speaking being ’the margin of manoeuvre is narrow’. Reading closely the teaching of Jacques-Alain Miller, Voruz brings together two terms for such manoeuvre, ’debility’ and ’delusion’, and thirdly Miller’s concept, ’the dupe of a real’, indicating towards another psychoanalytically significant way.

[5] Ibid.