Recently it was my privilege to travel to Switzerland for a photography exhibition where my work was featured in a group show alongside some extremely talented artists. I was entranced by a mind numbing video created by Juno Calypso, an artist living and working in London. The video piece titled “The Rejuvenating Facial Toning System”, 2012, depicts a woman trying on this beautifying product set amidst a carnivalesque/soap opera score that gives the film an unsettling ominous tone.
Calypso’s recent work investigates constructions of female sexuality in western culture with an almost David Lynch’ian approach to image making; masked figures and inexplicable fantastical situations ensue in her dreamlike wonderland. For the series she traveled solo to Pennsylvania spending a weekend at, what some might call, the quintessential honeymooners motel: heart shaped Jacuzzi, inescapable mirrors, pepto bismol décor – it works.
Juno Calypso performs in a series of surreal images applying non-linear narrative techniques, and a color palate that looks more like 1970’s horror movies than pictures created in 2015 (I’m thinking, of course, of Dario Agento’s Deep Red from 1975). In the images Juno Calypso transforms into Joyce, a character depicting no one specifically, but relatable to many.
In a recent interview Calypso states, “…I used to take pictures of Joyce as a way of making a critique on the labored construction of femininity, but now I’m starting to see that the problem isn’t the make-up and bizarre body improvement devices, but the way society treats women who invest so deeply in their appearance.”
I would further add that Calypso’s work subverts western constructions of beauty and desire by exploiting them to the point of mockery. Not unlike the American filmmaker Christopher Guest’s portrayal of steadfast dog breeders in Best of Show, or aspiring community actors in Waiting for Guffman, in each case, the poignancy of the artist intentions sharpen with their use of satire. Calypso’s portrayal of Joyce as a woman simultaneously revering, yet struggling, with her own femininity casts a disturbing light on the politics of sexuality. Specifically, that validation is best cultivated through a myriad of occasions and consumer goods.
Text by Rachel Cox.
Rachel Cox is an artist living and working in Lansing, MI. To view her work visit here.