One moment she is Joyce, the fictional one-woman honeymooner, languishing in a heart shaped tub
surrounded by mirrors in a seedy Pennsylvania love hotel. The next, she is a desperate woman, injecting herself with hormones three times a day in “A Girl’s Guide To Egg Freezing”. Now she is a beauty addict in a quest for eternal youth in ‘The Salon’. Like a modern-day Cindy Sherman, London based photographer Juno Calypso takes self-portraiture to a place you’ve never been before.
Deep in the basement of Galeria Melissa in Covent Garden and bathed in eerie red light is a fantasy beauty salon, complete with mask and gown clad mannequin salon attendees. Episodes of ‘Botched’ spring to mind: it’s the underlying joke. We all recognize the looming presence of the beauty industry in our lives, and we mock those that go too far in their pursuit of perfection, but don’t we all partake in the circus that is the beauty ‘cult’? The topic of self-care is more prevalent now than ever before.
The Salon is an immersive art installation that investigates beauty as cult through the integration of sculpture, technology, fashion and film. In the centre of this rather sinister red room is a wax cast of the artist herself as she lies on a treatment bed clad in white, a blanket draped over her body. She may be the subject of her own photographs, but this is her first foray into sculpture; the self-portrait taken a step further. The process of wax casting turned out to be a ritual in itself, consisting of three hours confined to a wax ‘coffin’ with only two nostril holes to breathe through while the cast sets. “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” the artist recalls. The wax Juno lies still, staring upwards, perhaps waiting for her treatment.
In The Salon, we are totally immersed in Juno Calypso’s world- which turns out to be a carefully orchestrated sci-fi chapel of beauty ritual. Beauty often mimics science fiction, and the accompaniments we have come to expect are all present, but now tinged with a sinister lining. Various unnamed mystery contraptions surround the treatment bed whilst a surgical looking white plastic lamp looms over her head, illuminating her waxy features- at least this silicone version of Juno will be young forever. The word “Radiance” beams out at you in neon lettering from the wall. The quintessential spa soundtrack (whale songs and panpipe mixes) plays continuously in the background, but is somehow not so relaxing anymore (was it ever?) and the recognizable spa scent (achieved with a combination of honey and disinfectant) infiltrates your nostrils to remind every salon regular of the places they’ve been before.
Mannequins stare out from the dark corners of the room like shadows, looking at you through their plastic, neon lined masks. You are welcome to join them. You will be supplied with a printed press release which doubles up as your own mask- this is a participatory space that encourages the visitor to get involved at every level of the senses. But doubtless every visitor will come to feel the alienating nature of the mask- it somehow dehumanizes by removing one’s individuality, making the visitor just one more cult member, performing beauty rituals the same way we perform our gender identities, to the point of the absurd.
The Salon has been produced in collaboration with Melissa, who have provided the mannequins with plastic shoes from their SS18 ‘Mapping’ collection to match their plastic masks. Franco-Belgian animation duo Hélène Jeudy and Antoine Caëcke, otherwise known as GERIKO, have created a giant 3D video installation which plays on loop at Melissa’s entrance. A glitzy pink, futuristic salon animation flutters across the screen and lures you in like an airplane safety video. But despite the themes of beauty and femininity, Calypso is keen to remind you that this is not just another pink art installation, which you might have come to expect from her previous body of work, which has been associated with overt femininity to the point of …well, missing the point. The inspiration for this futuristic space came from classic horror films such as Logan’s Run, The Skin I Live in, Suspiria and Dead Ringers.
The laboured construct of Femininity underpins The Salon, explored through the almost religious beauty rituals we go through. Beauty as cult. When you leave, the feeling is not of relaxation or rejuvenation as you would leaving a spa, but instead leaves you just a little unsettled. Your salon appointment awaits.
Juno Calypso’s The Salon runs at Galeria Melissa, 43 King Street, London until 15th April 2018 and Juno Calypso will be showing a new photographic series at TJ Boulting this Spring