Through a glorious haze of candy floss pink, enter the world of Juno Calypso. Her darkly comic, offbeat self-portraiture is placing her firmly at the centre of the European photography scene. Working alone, often as her fictional character Joyce, Calypso’s meticulously staged performances use absurd beauty rituals to explore the construction of femininity and challenge notions of perfection. We meet her at her London home to discuss a new set of pictures taken exclusively for PORT.
My introduction to Juno Calypso was a picture entitled ‘Popcorn Venus’. In this elaborately orchestrated performance, we see Joyce in a blonde wig, glasses, false teeth and lashes so heavy they weigh on her eyelids. She is standing in a giant powder-pink birthday cake surrounded by prawn cocktails and ’80s party food, looking rather bemused. Sitting in Juno’s bedroom in Dalston, surrounded by recognisable wigs, costumes and cans of bizarre meat, I feel like I’m in one of her pictures. It’s the room she was born in, and the place she spends most of her time researching her projects. I ask her about the early work. “It was not the first time I had presented myself as Joyce, but ‘Popcorn Venus’ was my first big staged picture,” she tells me. “It was for my degree show, the show that would present me to the world.
“At university, I had been introduced to the work of the photographer Jeff Wall. The main thing you hear about him is that he will often take six months to set up one picture. I thought, ‘This sounds wonderful. I have three’,” she remembers. “I got the idea from the Addams Family, where they cook the cake with the stripper inside it. I thought, ‘That’s a good dark reference’.” This dark humour is integral to Juno’s work. She encourages her audience to laugh at the character they see in her photographs. But Joyce, however, is not passive; she’s very much in on the joke. Last year, Juno went on a one-woman honeymoon tour, renting rooms in a love hotel in Pennsylvania while telling those she met that she was a travel writer. Home to a salmon-coloured, heart-shaped bath encircled by mirrors, and a huge circular bed with a skylight, the hotel was the perfect location for Joyce to perform pre-marital fantasies.
“These hotels haven’t changed décor since the ’60s. One man designed the whole thing and it’s a mess… a time warp,” she tells me. “I thought: surely a million fashion photographers must have used this. But they hadn’t. It was the underdog. That’s what I liked about it.” Though her work is sophisticated and takes time to conceive, Calypso is not interested in making perfect pictures. She sees the struggle for perfection in photography, which mirrors anxieties she, as a young woman, has felt. Anxieties of trying to achieve the perfect body, the perfect self. Working alone with camera and remote control, she plays out bizarre beauty rituals in order to critique contrived constructions of femininity.
To me, Juno’s art is not ostensibly about femininity. It’s about identity and isolation. She is confronting the notion of self – whether that be male or female. At the beginning, Joyce was key to the performance… a mask or veil. But as Juno evolves, the line separating her from Joyce becomes less defined. “She’s an elusive, shapeshifting character,” Juno says.
This article is taken from PORT issue 19, out now.