Using pastel-hued rooms filled with tacky decorations and edible props, London-born photographer Juno Calypso has created a bizarre world for her alter-ego Joyce: a woman of indefinable age seemingly teetering on the brink of either a nervous breakdown, or death by indifference. Surrounded by cream cakes, fluffy fabrics and unearthed 80s beauty products, Joyce stares emptily back from behind her office desk, her deadpan mien and glazed-over eyes reflecting a deeper exhaustion with unrealistic ideals of femininity and beauty. Juno brilliantly balances comedy and melancholy, capturing herself as Joyce using both analogue photography and digital video, always with a glossy finish that works as an ironic contrast to her character's expressionless face and ultimately mundane environments. Since graduating from the London College of Communication in 2012, the 23-year old has exhibited her work at the Simon Oldfield Gallery in London, and is now one of 12 final nominees for this year’s Catlin Prize. Ahead of the exhibition opening at the Londonnewcastle Projectspace on May 2, Juno previewed three new images and talked to us about tragic comedy, guilty pleasures and how close Joyce really is to that breakdown.
When and how was Joyce conceived?
It was in 2011, I was halfway through a photography degree at LCC and up until that point my only intention as a photographer was to create very glossy, hyper-alluring images of women with airbrushed skin, heavy eyes and pouting lips. I like collecting props and costumes and one evening I was in the studio testing out ideas for a shoot I was planning with a model the following week. I used myself just as a stand-in and got a bit carried away - I had these big fake teeth and thick glasses on and started pulling faces into the camera for my own amusement. I showed the images to my class the next day and my weird face seemed to make people laugh. My tutor told me to forget the model and carry on doing this so I did, and Joyce was born.
Is Joyce an autobiographical character?
I didn't think so at first but now I’d say so. I’ve never jumped out of a wedding cake but her sullen demeanor and preoccupation with artificiality are definitely exaggerated aspects of my own life.
Joyce makes us laugh much in the same way Bill Murray does – out loud, but always with a sense of tragicomic indifference. Has she given up?
Thank you, that’s a good comparison to hear! Tragic comedy is my favorite kind of comedy – it makes life a lot easier to cope with. I don’t think Joyce has given up yet but she’s definitely on the verge and that’s an interesting point to focus on. If Pedro Almodóvar hadn’t come up with it first I would have really enjoyed calling this project ‘women on the verge of a nervous breakdown’.
What artists inspire you?
Other artists working with self-portraiture are always influential - Nikki S. Lee and her hispanic project, Trish Morrisey’s staged family photographs. Samuel Fosso’s beautiful self-portraits make me laugh to myself every time I see them. I’m very drawn to artists who use sculpture and prosthetics to combine the everyday with the bizarre - Matthew Barney, Sandy Skoglund, Charlie White, and more recently Jonny Briggs, Luke Gilford and Polixeni Papapetro.
I was thinking of naming the next one Kimberly-Clark, after those hygiene dispensers you get in public toilets.
Do you always work with characters? Are there any other apart from Joyce?
I’ve always played around with staging and dressing up but this is the first time I’ve used myself and put a name to a character. Currently she’s the only one but I’d like to create more and begin to involve other people and multiple characters within one scene. I was thinking of naming the next one Kimberly-Clark, after those hygiene dispensers you get in public toilets.
Tell us about your sets – you make them all yourself, right? Does Joyce have a particular affinity for garish decorations?
I make the sets myself but I also use other people’s bedrooms and living spaces as locations that I rearrange or add props to. So far it’s always ended up being interiors belonging to grandmothers or single women reaching retirement so that may explain the decor. The work isn’t a criticism on taste, though – I love that sort of thing. Joyce’s affinity for garish decoration is my way of fulfilling my own guilty pleasures - I can buy the faux-marble ornaments and fluffy pieces of lingerie I’ve always really wanted but now with added creative justification.
What were the ideas behind your new work?
I'm half Maltese so I decided to go away for a bit and shoot the new work in Malta. I love the traditional decor of Maltese houses - the silk curtains and marble floors, they create a feeling of an ambiguous time period, which suited my work a lot. The images are a continuation of the last project so I was still thinking about the construct of femininity and this character's disillusion with the objects that surround her, but the work has definitely progressed into slightly darker, more unsettling territory. I think it's becoming more autobiographical. Last year I used my face to tell a joke, and it was easy for a viewer to just walk up and laugh at the woman in the big glasses wearing too much make-up. I think having my face hidden has shifted the audience's attention and hopefully brought other elements into question.
What’s next for you? Or, perhaps more appropriate, what’s next for Joyce?
I’m showing new work at the Catlin Prize, which is about to open on May 2nd. The prize is announced a couple weeks after that so we’ll see what happens then but I’m planning on going away on location again. As mentioned, I shot my work for the Catlin Prize in Malta and I loved the process of doing nothing but make work for three weeks straight, so I’d like to do that again. But I might let Joyce have a little nap for a bit while I experiment with other ideas.