In 2011, after two decades of taking pictures of myself in private, I began a series of self-portraits disguised as a fictional character named Joyce. Without knowing how to explain what I was doing at the time, I used my grandmothers’ houses or rented bedrooms online, and took pictures of myself while the hosts were asleep. Once alone I used Joyce to reenact the private underlife of a woman consumed by the laboured construct of femininity, carried out to the point of ritualised absurdity.
‘The Honeymoon’ is a continuation of the ‘Joyce’ series. In the spring of 2015 I spent a week alone at a romantic-themed couples resort in the USA. With a suitcase of wigs and lingerie, I posed as a travel writer and began using each room in the resort as a stage to perform solitary acts of desire and disappointment. In each room we find Joyce in moments of prepartion and anticipation. Seduction has begun in secrecy. A green clay body-mask beauty routine becomes a science-fiction metamorphosis. Joyce appears alone, absorbed and exhausted by her own reflection.
b. 1989, East London. Lives and works in London, UK
Juno Calypso graduated from London College of Communication in 2012. Since graduating Juno has won several awards including The British Journal of Photography International Series Award, and Foam Museums 2016 Talent award. Juno’s work has been exhibited internationally, with shows in New York, South Korea, Mexico, Canada and China. Her video work has been screened at the Saatchi Gallery and Tate Modern.
Twin Peaks, The Shining, Psycho: the pastel pink walls of out-of-town hotels often paper over a hotbed of sinister, sexualised weirdness. Which makes it no surprise that artist Juno Calypso is showing a new series of photographs made on her unlikely one-woman road trip to a honeymoon hotel. Calypso’s images come heavy with the scent of vanilla air fresheners and bacon pancakes. They swell with sexual frustration, and drive a sense of dread right into your stomach.
“It was a pink 1960s gothic nightmare,” says Calypso, when we meet for a drink to discuss her work. “I got dropped off at a diner in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania and had to tell a woman there that I was going to the love hotel. She looked me up and down and said, ‘Just you? Just one?’ Then I got picked up by The Love Machine, this flowery van full of ripped smelly seats that drives couples around the resort because they’re too lazy to walk.”
Calypso, who often photographs herself in the guise of alter-ego Joyce, had found a picture of the honeymoon hotel’s dusky pink bathrooms online. It was the perfect setting for the bored, frustrated, lonely housewife of her imagination – until she discovered it was on the other side of the Atlantic. But the draw was insurmountable. “I was stuck,” says Calypso in her matter-of-fact north London voice. “It was very inconvenient, but I knew I needed to do something as crazy as the stuff I did as a student. So I saved up all this money and just went. On my own. For a week.”
The “crazy” stuff includes her standing in a car-sized birthday cake in her mothers’ front room surrounded by rotting prawns and salami for Popcorn Venus; photographing herself wearing a remote-controlled 1970s anti-wrinkle mask reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter; and lying motionless, for hours, beside an open can of luncheon meat in Reconstituted Meat Slices.
When she arrived, Calypso found that the resort – which is used both as a honeymoon retreat and a last-ditch, make-or-break destination for disillusioned couples – had barely changed in decades. “Thank God they hadn’t redecorated,” she says. “My room had a heart-shaped hot tub and mirrors on the ceiling. I only left it for the all-you-can-eat breakfasts and dinner. The rest of the time I was just alone in my room taking pictures.”
There is a sense of airless claustrophobia about much of Calypso’s work. But in the Honeymoon Hotel pictures, that frustration is twinned with loneliness. “It’s sort of half fictional,” she says. “There’s this woman, alone in a hotel room exploring herself. But then I actually am a woman, alone in a hotel room. There is no Joyce, it’s just me – I’m the creep. I expected the hotel to be way more kinky. But apart from once hearing a guy say ‘Are you going to wear your suspenders tonight?’ I only heard snoring. And I was standing against the wall, listening.”
Calypso spends hours setting up each shot, staring at herself until, exhausted, something finally clicks. “The green one is my favourite,” she says. “I’d tried one of those deep sea clay body masks months before. I didn’t have nipples any more; I looked like an alien. It stayed in my mind, so I bought some green body paint and just stared at myself. That image is all about why we feel ugly. Why, on some days, we look in the mirror and just see a gargoyle. We actually see a monster. And why we spend hours in the bathroom trying to shed, shave and wash off this horror to reveal our true ‘beautiful’ selves.”
Speaking of scrubbing, Calypso ended up spending two hours, in a pair of exfoliating gloves, with a flannel under each knee trying to get that green body paint off the bath. “I sounded like I was having the best sex,” she laughs.
Calypso is now planning to visit other, similar resorts. “I’m going to honeymoon hotels all over the world. Places like Bulgaria and Russia, as well as those love hotels in Japan. I want to do a one-woman romance tour of the world,” she laughs. Has the project changed how she feels about marriage? “We’ve painted the single woman as this bitter figure who really wants all that,” she says, “but I’m not sure I do. And I’m not sure that’s right. Because, actually, in some of the photos I’ve ended up looking really powerful, like I’m preparing for world domination.”