Juno Calypso is a young photographer and filmmaker whose self-portraits are making waves. Much of her work features one character, ‘Joyce’ – posed by Juno herself – in a range of enigmatic situations. Joyce is a shapeshifter with a fabulous wardrobe – in ‘Disenchanted Simulation’ she’s blonde, kneeling on a sofa in a frilly polyester gown, her face pressed into a cushion; in ‘A Modern Hallucination’ a readhead Joyce lies clench-fisted and perfectly made up on a bed, head back, staring at the ceiling. In the film ‘The Honeymoon Suite’, screened at Tate Modern earlier this year, a naked, blue-painted Joyce stands in a pink, heart-shaped hot tub, gyrating slowly in front of a wall of mirrors. But whatever her get-up she’s a striking character who plays – with a fair dose of tongue-in-cheek humour – with how women are seen, and try to be seen. We got Juno to let us into Joyce’s pastel-coloured world.
First things first: who’s Juno Calypso?
I did one of those online tests recently that told me I was an extroverted introvert. I think that means I’m a shy person who can’t stop doing embarrassing things in public, which is pretty accurate.
Are you comfortable on camera when you’re not Joyce?
Up until quite recently I hated having my picture taken – even as Joyce I’m always alone. I was convinced I had the face of a stoned gargoyle and was never going to be photogenic. Then I realised I just have to smile and open my eyes a bit wider and I don’t look so bad. I also realised that no one cares, which was a great epiphany.
To me, your work touches on how women are seen and looked at, and plays with clichéd representations of female beauty. Would you agree?
Yes. I love playing with a cliché. I think I started out with the aim to challenge traditional beauty. I began the project four years ago when I was 21 and very angry that women had been physically, emotionally and financially depleted by the beauty standards set by a capitalist society.
I still hold those aims but I’ve been open to more ideas and learnt that the problem isn’t that women are obsessed with beauty, but that women-being-obsessed-with-
Now, I like to view my work as more of a celebration and hidden look into the private lives and introspective urges of women. Female desire and fantasy. The relationship we have with ourselves. What do we get up to when we are truly alone? I’m really interested in that.
There’s a lot of humour, playfulness, pink and kitsch in your work (eg your graduate portfolio was presented in a cake) – which offsets a certain stillness. Is this a balance you consciously try to strike?
Yes, definitely. I have to have some humour in my work. If I don’t laugh I’ll cry. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious effort to restore balance, I think it’s just a visual representation of my personality and humour. Sweet but cynical. I love dark comedy and the mix of desire and disgust. My mum took me to see ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ when I was seven and I’m starting to think that’s where this all came from. Since then I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from films like ‘Pink Flamingos’ and ‘Female Trouble’ by John Waters, ‘Women on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ by Pedro Almodovar, and the Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney.
How do you come up with your sets? A lot of thought clearly goes into them.
Thanks, I’m glad the effort comes across. I spend a lot of my spare time on eBay searching words like ‘sexy’ or ‘slimming’. The luncheon meat from ‘Reconstituted Meat Slices’ was from a supermarket near my grandma’s house in Malta. I go there every year to take more pictures for the project. Now I always have to go straight to the tinned food aisle in any supermarket I find abroad to add to my collection.
And now for Joyce. Where did she come from?
Joyce was a semi accidental creation. I used to only photograph friends and models but I’d always use myself as a stand-in model to test out the lighting a few days before a shoot. I’d pull ugly faces to make the experience less awkward and one day I brought the pictures into uni just to have something to show my tutor for our weekly deadline, and she loved them.
My face made her laugh and that was an interesting reaction that changed everything. Before, all I wanted to do was make hyper-alluring glossy images of women looking sexy and dangerous. Now I use my weird face to make people laugh but also to explore the exhaustion women often feel while bearing the weight of constructed femininity.
With Joyce I get to dress up and experiment with myself. I imagine it’s what doing drag feels like but without the audience. When I was younger I wanted to be an actress so maybe this is how that manifested. I like to make people laugh so I’m happy this allows me to do that as a career.
What’s the relationship between Joyce and yourself, or would you say there is no crossover?
There’s definitely a crossover. I never know what to say when people ask me about Joyce as a fictional person – what’s her job, is she married, where’s she from. I know it would be cute to have a whole life imagined for her but I’ve never felt an urge to do it. Or if I try it just feels like pitching for a shit sitcom. I like Joyce to appear as a hallucination rather than as a clear story. She’s just me with a lot more make up on. And maybe about ten years older.
Talk us through Joyce’s wardrobe.
Lots of skirt suits. Lots of lingerie. Business and pleasure. Marks & Spencer is her label of choice and everything is highly flammable.
What are your favourite representations of her?
My first favourite has to be business agent Joyce in ‘Agency’. She’s a busy woman and she wants to let you know you’re wasting her time.
Second is in ’12 Reasons You’re Tired All The Time’ (top). She’s a marble goddess. A plastic statue rising from the bedroom floor. Is she a joyless doll-woman paralysed by her pursuit of perfection, or is she a vicious alien preparing for battle? Who knows. I prefer the last option.
Words by Flo Wales Bonner.