The September Issues

WHAT LIES BENEATH

in conversation with juno calypso

GEM FLETCHER INTERVIEWS FEMINIST PHOTOGRAPHER JUNO CALYPSO TO DISCUSS HER PERFORMATIVE, ATMOSPHERIC SELF-PORTRAITS THAT QUESTION THE COMPLEXITIES OF WOMANHOOD, THE ILLUSION OF THE IMAGE, AND THE UNCOMFORTABLE LIMBO STATE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY.

THE HONEYMOON SUITE, 2015, archival pigment print

photography JUNO CALYPSO
words GEM FLETCHER

Growing up in the digital age, Juno Calypso is no stranger to performing for the camera. As a teenager, Calypso would dress up in her bedroom and take pictures of herself, as a method of exploring her body and understanding her flaws. Now a celebrated artist, her work combines performance and photography to question the female condition and the uncomfortable limbo state between fantasy and reality.

Role-playing has the potential to explore deeper questions about identity, and how gender, femininity, and sexual agency are embedded in our broader visual culture. The rise of feminism and gender politics has led artists to challenge sexism, and reveal the rigid gender roles imposed by society. Juno believes that, “men use feminism to take down powerful work. They will only accept feminism in their vernacular.”

"MEN USE FEMINISM TO TAKE DOWN POWERFUL WORK. THEY WILL ONLY ACCEPT FEMINISM IN THEIR VERNACULAR.”

A SOLITARY LOVE AFFAIR, 2016, archival pigment print

The patriarchy has long dictated the commodification of women’s bodies and their self-esteem, and while in recent years things have started to shift, women are still held up to dated archetypes (the caregiver, the mistress or the spinster). As an artist, Calypso questions the complexities of womanhood. She taps into her own experiences, responding to the pressure and anticipation put on women from a young age. “I always felt the expectation to look a certain way. In your early teens, you go through this horrible metamorphosis. Your body changes and you don’t know how to deal with it,” Calypso shares. “You’re suddenly offered all these solutions, like ‘oh, don’t worry, you can shave your legs now; you can use this product or try this mask.’”

SENSORY DEPRIVATION, 2016, archival pigment print

“I ALWAYS FELT THE EXPECTATION TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY. IN YOUR EARLY TEENS, YOU GO THROUGH THIS HORRIBLE METAMORPHOSIS. YOUR BODY CHANGES AND YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH IT." CALYPSO SHARES. “YOU’RE SUDDENLY OFFERED ALL THESE SOLUTIONS, LIKE ‘OH, DON’T WORRY, YOU CAN SHAVE YOUR LEGS NOW; YOU CAN USE THIS PRODUCT OR TRY THIS MASK. YOU ENTER THIS WORLD WHERE EVERYONE IS OBSESSED WITH MAINTAINING THEIR BODY AND PUTTING THEMSELVES THROUGH PAIN AND STRESS TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY. THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY PRESENTS THIS AS A LOVELY THING, WHICH MAKES EVERYTHING PERFECT, WHEN IN FACT IT’S A DARK AND PAINFUL SPACE.”

Calypso’s work unpacks societal expectations and lets them all unravel. It explores how we’ve become slaves to the illusion: slaving for our perfectly curated lives, while behind the scenes anxiety, frustration, and depression plague us. Calypso’s seminal work, “The Honeymoon Suite”, deals with ideas about heterosexual monogamy, and interrogates the construct of desire and the unattainable expectations of female perfection surrounding weddings and honeymoons. Masks are a recurring theme in her work; they speak to artificial femininity and the emotional journey that women go through to disguise who they are.

In Calypso’s recent work, “What to Do With a Million Years”, she continues to explore the fantasy of the ideal woman. She draws parallels between transhumanism, the desire to live forever, and how the beauty industry perpetuates youth. “We are constantly trying to suppress aging,” she says. “We want everything to be perfect, fresh and delicious, yet underneath is this real death and decay. The emotion I’m interested in is the space between fantasy and reality. You imagine your dream situation, yet the reality is filled with disappointment. That is a universal horror. The work represents these two opposing sides, and I think everyone can understand that feeling.”

"THE EMOTION I’M INTERESTED IN IS THE SPACE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY."

ROSEMARY’S ROOM, 2018, archival pigment print

Calypso is a meaningful advocate for women. She posits that feminism isn’t about being a perfect woman—quite the opposite. It’s the opportunity to let it all out, to truly celebrate the complex beings we are. “Everyone is championing positivity and this concept of being a well-rounded person, and it’s just unrealistic. You need the dark to experience the light,” Calypso explains. “I like that feeling when you’re crying your eyes out, and you feel alone, and then there is this moment where you can’t be bothered to be sad anymore, and you feel euphoric. I think we are always told to hide our weaknesses and be resilient, but you learn so much through the failure. We should sympathize with ourselves more. All the cliches are true—you can’t genuinely experience happiness until you’ve experienced the depths of hell.”

12 REASONS YOU’RE TIRED ALL THE TIME, 2013, archival pigment print