Juno Calypso: What to do with a Million Years

What to do With a Million Years by Juno Calypso (TJ. Boulting)

“How Much Life is Enough” (2018)Photography Juno Calypso, courtesy TJ Boulting

What would you do if you had a million years?

The question echoes in the mind of the spectators, as they descend into the exhibition space in TJ. Boulting. The comfortable, yet terrifying viewpoint on immortality unfolds in Juno Calypso’s photographs, as she presents a new series set in a house built 26 feet underground as a bomb-shelter during the Cold War in Las Vegas – in which Girard Henderson, a billionaire businessman, moved with his wife Mary Hollingsworth in the 1960s.

The house is an impenetrable golden mausoleum where time doesn’t exist; the furniture is perfectly preserved as the interiors have never been directly exposed to sunlight.

Designed to withstand any disaster, the shelter is unbreakable, and, thus, gives a taste of immortality; Calypso lived into Mary and Girard Henderson’s house for a few weeks, detaching herself from the outside world to answer the question that, eventually, became the title of her exhibition: “What to do With a Million Years”.

The underground house mirrors the common Las Vegas villas of the ‘60s: there’s a large garden provided with a barbeque and a pool – which, under Calypso’s vision, transcends its exotic decor and becomes a dark, secret, blue pond where she floats in the photograph “Immortal Bodies”.

In the first room of the exhibition, the photographs are distinctively either pink or blue toned, vibrant against the white walls. In the second area, blue and pink eventually meet in the same frame: they blend into purple hues as the room’s light gets dimmer – the soft ambiance partially tinted with a neon violet light, creating a sense of intimacy. Calypso is fully engaged with the exhibition space: nature is falsified in the second room as its floor is covered in plastic grass; fake climbing ivy twirls up on a white, metal bench in the exhibition, creating a romantic hideout for the visitors. As plastic plants hang from the ceiling, the visitor is immersed in a newly found sense of discovery: the space appears like a terrestrial paradise.

The decaying opulence of the Henderson’s villa reveals a deeply concealed desire – the word ‘sex’, written in stones and surrounded by plants, adorns the opposite corner of the garden: it encourages the dream of perpetual love and lust, transporting the viewer into a fantasy where Calypso’s body is the vessel. Despite the nudity of the photographer in her self-portraits, her photographs are not meant to be arousing: rather than creating a sense of connectedness, they convey estrangement.
In “A Clone of Your Own”, Calypso is a nymph emerging from a bathtub surrounded by mirrors – wearing nothing but a mask and a crystal bikini as she confronts the viewer. Calypso, twisted in a forced sexual pose, becomes a mysterious creature outlined against the blue light of the early morning in “Erotic Nightmare”, whereas in “Subterranean Kitchen” the photographer is bent over the pink kitchen top, embodying the submissive American housewife of the 1960s.

The photographs are opposites and parallel to each other: Calypso turned the colours pink and blue into symbols of fabricated perfection and of the inconclusive and frantic pursue of immortality.
Such colour palette is reflected in the exhibition consistently, offering the viewer a deeper understanding on the every-day reality of the Post-War decades in America.

The possibility of an atomic disaster loomed over The Cold War years: in an age when anything can be pulverised in an instant, the preservation of the physical body became extremely valuable. New techniques and strategies were developed to overcome the deterioration of the body after death, such as cryonic preservation. Calypso references it in the exhibition space, specifically in the photograph “Immortal Bodies”: the idea of perpetual conservation of the body lends layers of eeriness to the relaxing scene – suddenly, Calypso looks immersed in an ice bath, echoing the desperate escape from death.

Juno Calypso’s exploration of the possible ways to achieve eternal beauty continues through her self-portraits in What to do With a Million Years. As Calypso shows in her self-portraits the desperate efforts people commit to in order to follow the societal standards of beauty, her body becomes the intersection where the beautiful and the uncanny meet, perfectly highlighting the duality between ‘whimsical’ and ‘torment’ in immortality.

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