This Photographer Is Debunking The 'Construction Of Femininity' One Picture At A Time
The Debrief: Juno Calypso's series of haunting self portraits explore our obsession with beauty and anti ageing
Juno Calypso. The name conjures up Mad Men-style images of a glamorous seductress singing to a smoky room. Notions of a performer aren't actually far wrong, as Juno Calypso is a London based artist who, for the past four years, has been making self-portraits in an attempt to deconstruct the ‘construction of femininity’ one pastel-hued pictured at a time.
Calypso creates elaborately staged photographs, performing scenarios as a character known as 'Joyce': a nonchalant, disenchanted and tired figure working soullessly, listlessly towards a 'perfect' version of herself. Using the character to explore modern rituals of beauty and seduction, Calypso presents Joyce as the ultimate consumer and with each photograph we encounter her deadpan gaze staring out at us as she undertakes various cosmetic activities in all-too-perfect pink scenes.
With the rise of armpit hair appreciation, outrage over the photoshopping of women on magazine covers and online movements such as freethenipple gaining momentum, Calypso has amassed a growing audience through sites like Instagram by making work that girls can relate to. Her photographs are humorous and creepy - bittersweet reminders of the lengths women will go to in the pursuit of perfection.
A solo show of Calypso's work has just shown at London’s 71a gallery, showing new video and photographic works from a trip she embarked upon earlier this year to a Honeymoon hotel in Pennsylvania. The show saw Calypso invite guests into her low-lit pink boudoir decked out with 'Just Married' bunting, rose petals and an r'n'b soundtrack.
Here she talks to the The Debrief about the concepts behind some of her most haunting images.
Calypso's photographs often feature domestic settings and she has a particular penchant for the private places that girls engage in their beauty rituals like bathtubs and bedrooms. Her inspiration came naturally from her own experiences as a teenage girl. 'I’d always taken pictures of myself alone in my bedroom since I was a teenager. Then halfway through art school I began to photograph myself in disguise as a lonesome looking woman. I had no way of explaining what I was doing because I didn’t really know myself, so I’d end up creeping around my grandma’s house with a wig and a camera while she was out at the shops.'
'This character I’d been creeping around as didn’t have a name up until the day we had to hand in our final project at university. It didn’t feel that important to me but we had to give our project a title and I wanted something to tie it all together. Everyone wanted to know her name, and when they asked I’d be like, ‘what about Joyce?’ and they’d crack up every time so I went with that.'
'When I was younger I used to stick my head inside my grandma’s bathroom mirror cabinets. You know when you have three mirrors around your face and you can move them around till you see a reflection of yourself that isn’t looking back at you, it’s looking somewhere else. It would fascinate me because I’d be like, oh my god that’s me, thats what I really look like to other people. I don’t think I was always happy with what I saw. This image was taken in those same mirrors.'
Calypso's work features a series of absurd beauty contraptions that have a dark humour to them. Slimming systems, creepy salmon-pink toning masks and vibrating massage machines share an aesthetic that is like something between the shopping channel in the 80s and the Avon ladies of Edward Scissorhands. She researches fads and phases like the Linda Evans Rejuvenique Facial Toning System that were sold when they hit the market as 'the next big thing' and sources them online.
'I got really into collecting bizarre beauty contraptions. I’d trawl eBay until I’d find something strange enough to buy. I got really obsessed by the cult of beauty and spent two days last year at an ‘anti-ageing’ convention in London, which was as mesmerising and depressing as it sounds. I have a small collection of these contraptions now but I’ve never tried any of them on myself. Not for any moral reason, they just really, really don’t do anything. It’s a lie. And most of them are second hand.'
After taking some time away from making new work earlier this year to decide on a direction, Calypso found a photograph of a pink heart-shaped bath tub surrounded by mirrors languishing on her hard drive and decided to investigate to it's whereabouts. Weeks later Calypso found it, packed her bags full of wigs and props and headed off on a one-woman trip to a Honeymoon Hotel in Pennsylvania. Her work had entered a new dimension and it was the most expensive trip she had ever taken in pursuit of the next photograph. The irony of being alone in a place that was made for couples suited her work perfectly and she shut herself away in the room for a week, dressing up and taking pictures. 'Everyone asks if I got lonely at the hotel but it never crossed my mind,' she says, 'being alone was the best bit.'
Calypso says that recently she's been returning to where she started – rifling through old pictures and returning to her own bedroom to make photographs. 'That’s where everything stemmed from. I used to come home from school and spend hours taking weird pictures of myself on a little digital camera then send them to my friends on MSN.'
As her work has changed and developed so too has her relationship with the character she created and Calypso says that recently she has been considering disassociating herself from Joyce. 'I see the work I’m making now as a continuation of the ‘Joyce’ series, it fits into that in practice and aesthetic, but I don’t want to be bound by it. I never imagined her as an alter-ego but that’s the way it usually ends up being described. I never felt comfortable with that.'
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