Juno Calypso’s 3D renderings take form at Galeria Melissa in London
Descend into the basement of Galeria Melissa in Covent Garden and you will find a room filled with unsettling red light, populated by life-size mannequins wearing strange masks. The environment seems to mimic a spa or a salon, but this room wants to unnerve you, rather than to make you feel rejuvenated or at ease. This is what the visual artist Juno Calypso aims to do with her work: seduce you with familiar images of beauty, femininity and sex appeal, and then unveil the uncanny lying within.
‘The Salon’, her latest exhibition, hosted by Melissa and featuring plastic shoes from the brand’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection, turns away from the self-portraiture photography that Calypso has previously worked with in favour of a full-bodied immersive installation, featuring a 3D rendering of her own body.
Digital mock up of 'The Salon' exhibition at Galeria Melissa
‘The process takes three hours and you have your whole head cast completely,’ she recalls with a grin. ‘You can’t see or speak, all you can do is move your hands to do a thumbs up or thumbs down. Your whole head is covered in this heavy, hot mud rock. I never thought I’d use myself for the model, but I thought, I can’t put someone else through that process.’
Curiously, it’s those very processes – transformative, discomforting processes that relate to the body itself – that are often the focus of Calypso’s incisive work. The photographer first came to attention with ‘Joyce’ and ‘The Honeymoon’, two series revolving around the invented character of Joyce, highlighting the constructive rituals that determine femininity and often taking place in over-the-top couples’ resorts and hotels.
In addition to praise and prizes like the British Journal of Photography’s International Photography Award, these works garnered criticism of what some perceived as the overt femininity of Calypso’s work, though that’s not something the artist herself seems to mind. ‘I don’t mind the reaction; if I had a roomful of male critics, I could just fight them all day. That would really strengthen your feminist muscle.’ And at the same time, she acknowledges that she has benefitted from the recent branding of feminism and female empowerment by corporations eager to jump on the bandwagon.
‘There’s a lot of hijacking of the movement. A lot of brands using the female empowerment thing to sell stuff, creating this false utopia of “Girls can do it!”’ she muses. ‘Half of me loves it and half of me thinks, “Well, someone’s making money off this.” It makes everyone else think, “Oh it’s been done then, we’ve sorted out women’s stuff, let’s move on.”’
The Salon probes the darkness and ambiguity that can lie within that very conundrum: the troubling questions of identity and self-care in a complex capitalist environment. ‘I’m really interested in how people use self-improvement, and the ways it can go wrong,’ she says. ‘It’s a bit like really bad science fiction. I love watching plastic surgery documentaries, and the way people can’t see what they’re doing. There’s dysmorphia. They think: This is going to be it. And then they’re a bit disappointed.’