Juno Calypso



AMERICAN SUBURBX Five Uneasy Pieces: An Interview with Juno Calypso


BF: Within the theatricality of your images, you seem to be hinting at a considered perception of the feminine conditioned to that of a ponderance of abjection…a horror within…or a horror from a separate vantage point. I struggle to have a discourse on the politics of contemporary feminism due largely to its current faddism and constructs of bandwagon sloganeering, not because I take issue with the importance of its measure. Would you consider your work a personal investigation of self or are you pandering to the potential of contemporary feminism? Is the self exposed personalized or politicized?


JC: I would consider it a personal investigation of the self, but my self is a feminine-feminist. So it also becomes political, but I wouldn’t say I’m pandering – certainly not self consciously and even more certainly not unknowingly. Feminism was never a topic I chose to exploit. My mum raised me with a brutal education on women’s issues, but social media didn’t really exist then. There was no so called bandwagon for me to jump on. It took me years to convince some of my close friends that women’s issues were relevant. So even with the slogans and fads, I’m glad that young women are talking about it.
I don’t feel I am exposing my physical self by appearing in my photographs. It doesn’t feel like me anymore. I cringe every time click-bait articles claim my work is “blowing away perceptions of beauty”. What does that even mean? I use my body, but it’s the emotional self I’m focused on. I like making work where you can see the subject frozen in thought, you can hear them slowly dying inside.

Horror is something I’ve always loved. That was a topic I exploited thinking it would make me cool. The art I made when I was a teenager was so kitsch – everything had to be about sex or blood. I tried reading Powers of Horror to justify what I was doing but I couldn’t understand it. It was only when I got to university that my teachers all told me that what I was doing was obvious, and I realised they were right. So I re-read Powers of Horror and shifted my focus from the external horror, to the horror within. I discovered the powers of subtlety.


BF: Why is “Joyce” a stand-in? Tell me a bit about the performance measure of your work…why do you employ yourself and not others for the project? Is it the ritual of work or the interest of diaristic importance in a fictionalized setting that gives you a control measure to center yourself within?


JC: I described her as a stand-in when that was the literal function. There was no mention of ‘Joyce’ then, it was just me trying out ideas for photographs that I wanted to do eventually try with other people. I didn’t think I was interestingenough to be the subject of my photographs. Now I work exclusively in this way because it suits me so well. I never felt comfortable taking pictures of other people. I’d get distracted and the images wouldn’t turn out the way I’d planned because I was too busy keeping them entertained. Iwasn’t confident in telling other people exactly what to do. When I’m alone I can beat myself up for hours until the work is done. Most of the time I don’t know what I want to do, I have to test things out
until I get there. Being alone allows me to take my time. I was always so jealous of musicians and writers being self-sufficient in their practice. I wanted to have that life. I didn’t choose to use myself because I felt it was important to document my life. That’s a bonus. I chose to work alone because I like my own company and I’m always there. I don’t have to rely on anyone else to get work done.


BF: “The First Night”…the color blue…explain your choice of color if its worth mentioning. I can see cinematic and art historical contextualization within from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to transgressive Asian horror cinema, notable abstract anonymity of the hair and veil draping the female figure in an interior and familiar home environment. Do you draw inspiration for your tableau from cinema or art historical iconography?


JC: From both. Growing up I was taken to an Italian catholic church in London every Sunday but I couldn’t speak Italian, so iconography has been laser cut into my head. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Battle Royale and the Korean psychological horror, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’. This was around the same time I discovered Caravaggio and Goya.
I googled ‘Picasso’s blue period’ a lot recently when I didn’t know what to do next with my work. Before I went to the Honeymoon Hotel I thought I’d had my time with pink so moved onto blue. Going to the Honeymoon Suite made me realise I will never be done with the colour pink. So now I alternate between the two. When I’m working on location I’ll allocate half my time to creating preconceived images, and the rest taking pictures of whatever. ‘The First Night’ was one of those whatever images. I had a bridal veil and an LED light, and that was the result. I placed the light behind me and saturated the blue in post-production. It was actually taken on a sunny day with the curtains closed.


BF: “wrinkle mask, baby oil, a tin of cold meat have become joyless and repressive”-Juno Calypso. Was it ever any different? When did the construct of consumerist intervention on the female body become a catalyst for your work? Was there a specific moment when these products equated to your own personal oppression?


JC: Yeah a tin of meat really pissed me off once and I had to do something about it. Nah, to be honest – that was actually one of the first things someone wrote about my work and I liked it so I took it. It’s true though, they’re all things that at one point in time were marketed as being nutritious or life-changing. When in reality they don’t work. I’m interested in moments of disappointment.


The critique of repressive practices on the female body has not to my mind been exhausted by contemporary culture. I became very interested in the consumerist intervention on the female body when I read ‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf. Hardly any of the products that appear in my images are souvenirs from my real life. I’ve tried making images more in touch with my own reality, but I prefer fantasy. An electronic wrinkle mask is more interesting to look at than a strip of wax.


BF: “A Dream in Green”- The engendered use of color in opposition to blue-pink. The angle of the shot…the mirrors…if I were to speculate about the idealized nude…Botticelli’s Venus (you can’t help but notice the correlation)…do the matters of feminist diatribes become difficult under the totality of self-representation in an image like a dream in green? If so, how would you combat the display of desire aimed at the viewer from the camera’s position from that of the desire of self within an autodidactic methodology of display? Do you feel the image is eroticized and if so…to whose advantage or disadvantage?


JC: I feel like this question is saying ‘can you still be a feminist when your camera is aiming at your ass?” If so, my answer is yes. Does it become difficult? Surprisingly it hasn’t. I know you don’t like slogan feminists but I can’t tell you how relieved I am that someone has given ‘slut-shaming’ a name. When I was at secondary school, if I’d even draw parts of my body for an art project I’d be scolded for being ‘too revealing’. And that was in 2005. It’s such a useless way to treat women.


A Dream In Green is definitely eroticised. Too whose advantage or disadvantage? I don’t know yet. I don’t think I am creating a disadvantage for myself, or to the women’s movement by making this work. The green skin has helped communicate the context I’m working in. Not that it should be any different, but with that in place people understand my images as a type of science-fiction, and I like that. I like the way science fiction has it’s political undertones but ultimately it is a fantasy. I also get a lot of messages from Star Trek fans now.


BF: Your work points towards moving image. Is this a medium you could see yourself working in.


JC: Definitely. I always use a video camera when shooting to help me test poses and so I’ve managed to create a few video pieces out of that footage. The style is very rough at the moment. I’ve worked on film sets and what I’m doing is the most DIY bootleg version of a serious film production. Filmmaking requires team work and doesn’t leave much room for mistakes, but making mistakes when I’m alone is the foundation of my practice, so I think I’ll stick with it a bit longer.



Dazed & Confused

‘Using pastel-hued rooms filled with tacky decorations and edible props, London-born photographer Juno Calypso has created a bizarre world for her alter-ego Joyce: a woman of indefinable age seemingly teetering on the brink of either a nervous breakdown, or death by indifference. Surrounded by cream cakes, fluffy fabrics and unearthed 80s beauty products, Joyce stares emptily back from behind her office desk, her deadpan mien and glazed-over eyes reflecting a deeper exhaustion with unrealistic ideals of femininity and beauty. Juno brilliantly balances comedy and melancholy, capturing herself as Joyce using both analogue photography and digital video, always with a glossy finish that works as an ironic contrast to her character’s expressionless face and ultimately mundane environments. Since graduating from the London College of Communication in 2012, the 23-year old has exhibited her work at the Simon Oldfield Gallery in London, and is now one of 12 final nominees for this year’s Catlin Prize. Ahead of the exhibition opening at the Londonnewcastle Projectspace on May 2, Juno previewed three new images and talked to us about tragic comedy, guilty pleasures and how close Joyce really is to that breakdown.’


– Hanne Christiansen


One Stop Arts: Catlin Prize 2013 Review

‘In spite of all their meticulously arranged choreography, it is for this reason that the photographs offered by Juno Calypso, a London College of Communication graduate, really stand apart. DisenchantedReconstituted and Tired – as her titles recount – her work explores contemporary notions of femininity. Using herself as model – as her alter ego Joyce – her is face always obscured or covered, either by wigs, sliding chiffon or by an unsettling salmon pink plastic mask that is plugged into a strange dial device. Her deeply-worked sets create startlingly erotic panoramas – seedy in all their attention to texture, their fetish for colour and their centralization of a body bedecked with accessories as the setting itself.’


– Natalie Ferris


Hotshoe Magazine 

‘With the plethora of artists who have used perforative methods to explore notions of femininity, it would be comparatively easy to reel off a list of references that could be seen to permeate the work of this year’s winner of the LCC Hotshoe Portfolio Award. However, rather than being preoccupied with representations of femininity in its finalized form, Juno Calypso’s work holds its focus upon its laboured production, through her imagined character – Joyce. 


In a series of elaborately staged video pieces and large format, pastel-coloured photographs, Calypso explores the manufacture of femininity and seduction. The rigmarole of beautification is carried out to the point of ritualised absurdity, through which her perforative alter ego is reduced to, or perhaps heightened from a young woman to a vacant, sneering Spitting Image character.


The scale of production in itself echoes the ethos of the project; each of the videos allows us a glimpse at a different stage in the creation of Joyce. Within the first of the two films, Empty Pleasures, we see Joyce rocking disinterestedly back and forth on an exercise ball, and emptying a can of hydrating water spray on her face, as if trapped in a never ending, Energizer Bunny-like cycle. She appears expressionless, vapid, as she transcends her body towards her fantasised “better self”.


The Second film takes the beautiful strangeness of the project a step further with an infomercial for a plastic anti-wrinkle mask, in which we are shown how to properly administer The Linda Evans Rejuvenique Facial Toning System by (silk clad) women who appear to be enraptured by the product, in what Calypso refers to as “the pre-orgasmic, masturbatory performance of women on television as they interact with cosmetic beauty products”. Les Baxter’s mamba sound track , grainy VHS visual production and a disconcerting moment in which in eye seems trapped inside the mask, (the human presence being eclipsed by the process of beautification) lend an ominous air, more appropriate to an exploitation film than, perhaps, a beauty informercial.


Each of the films builds to the final jigsaw piece of the project: a series of large format, and highly composed photographs, placing Joyce in cliche encounters with the male gaze. In Popcorn Venus, Joyce emerges Venus-like from a cake wearing a shell bikini, nestled amongst other party favours, aping a 1950s bachelor party, her expression, once again, vacant and tired. In the final stages of the series, A Modern Hallucination, Joyce lies, fists clenches, exasperated on a bed “acting” as Calypso puts it “as a mirror to the exhaustion felt whilst bearing the dead weight of constructed femininity”.


Joyce is not purely a reaction to the male gaze, but also a darkly satirical indictment of the self-flagellating narcissism of the “bedroom-culture of image-making” created by young women, such as Calypso, with the rise of social media, altering the meaning of modern femininity for generations of young people.


Juno Calypso is an artist from whom we can expect great things to come.’


– Gregory Barker