Susan Copich is a renowned American Photographer, famous for her provocative and insightful series ‘Domestic Bliss.’ These artworks are tragicomic instances that reveal her hidden thoughts and inner darkness. The photographs are at once stark, funny and brutally honest metaphors and portrayals of suburban American life, and touch on something much deeper within the human condition.
Take the artwork ‘Anger Management’ for instance. Copich can be seen with an odd, deadpan expression and wildly tussled hair. In a moment of quiet hysteria, she has been caught and snapped seconds before twisting the head off and decapitating a toy puppy. In the background stand her two children, identically dressed with matching pigtails and looks of bewilderment adorning their faces. The atmosphere is tense and dramatic.
Shot from on high, the viewpoint creates a distorted view of the bodies, with Copich’s head looking bulbous and menacing. With her eyes fixed on the camera, she catches our eye as we look into the artwork. The sparse room has no decoration other that a plain rug, and the square pattern frames the figures within the space.
Referencing contemporary culture
Copich continually references popular American culture, and the artificial film set style quality that she often employs throughout the series always manages to create an odd and fascinating quality. Her two girls are reminiscent of the haunting twins from ‘The Shining’ by Stanley Kubrick, as they stand all orderly to attention behind their mother.
The false, superficial feel of the objects and lighting are like the kind that might be found in ‘The Truman Show’, the tale of an unsuspecting Man played by Jim Carey who lives his whole life in a Big Brother style film set island town, unaware that the entire world around him is full of actors and everything is scripted. Copich toys with these themes of a carefully controlled surface with the wilder undercurrent that flows beneath.
In ‘Snap’ she appears in a serial killer style room that has been completely sealed in plastic sheets. Wielding an axe, with a shovel in the corner and a wheelbarrow full of soil and clothes, she seems crazed and wild, yet elegant in a black dress, heels and a pearl necklace. This artwork is brought together perfectly by the high viewpoint and sensitively matched composition of form and colour. Look closely and you will see that the deep red of the shovel handle matches that of the wheelbarrow’s frame. Splashes of red are splattered throughout the photographs on the wall like bloodstains from a crime scene. The images themselves are prints from the Domestic Bliss series. Here she references her own work, providing a macabre yet serene environment in which to view the photographs. It is almost as if they are themselves victims, and this strange context is a metaphoric studio that enables us to look deep into the darker, yet insightful, depths of her psyche.
A Choreography of the Body
Copich comes from a professional background of contemporary dance and Pilates, disciplines that both require an extremely high level of control over ones own body and movement. Throughout her ‘Domestic Bliss’ series, she continually draws on this expertise to create dynamic and exciting interactions between the people in her artworks. She has a deep and considered understanding of this element of her work, and it can be found especially in photographs such as ‘Toy’, ‘Mommy Time’ and ‘Spare the Rod’.
Deadpan, Black Humour
One persistent theme that seeps through all of Copich’s artworks is her dark sense of humour. She places such odd scenarios in incredibly familiar domestic settings. The effect is that we are uncomfortably forced to think about and confront the problems and tensions that exist beneath the carefully controlled facades that we present to the world.
In ‘Witching Hour’, she sits drunk at the table, completely oblivious that her children are drinking the wine and sticking their tongues out at her. One outstretched hand reaches across the table towards one of her daughters in a feeble attempt of affection. But it is rejected, and only furthers to pull her shawl off her shoulders and expose her cleavage. This helps to add to the inappropriateness of her behaviour, and augment the unsettling atmosphere.
Creating a Strong Emotional Response
There is no doubting the power of Copich’s artwork. It is confrontational, bold and addresses volatile subjects. This gives each work a charge, and it exactly for this reason that her work is so infamous.
Oscar Wilde said that ‘the world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.’ Copich knows this, and visualises the quiet, desperate rifts that emerge in everyday life. She uses intelligence, humour and artistic sensitivity to call attention to these stranger, and perhaps darker, moments that exist in the lives of everyone. They are familiar and universal, whether we like to admit it or not, but that is exactly what makes her work so captivating and unforgettable.