Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (Roman tomb epitaph, Epicurean principle: I did not exist, I existed, I do not exist, I do not care).
Epicureanism revealed the nonsense of all fears with compelling logic, among them, the fear of death, because “as long as we exist death is not here, and when it comes, we no longer exist”. Epicurus of Samos rejected the idea of destiny or determinism, regarding it as a power tool to subdue the people, to stir up fanaticism, fears and false values.
It seems that in secular societies like ours we plunge into the carpe diem that the Greek philosopher proposed: living in the here and now, without the weight of seeking a divine hereafter o a post-mortem fame. But current frivolity has nothing to do with a philosophy in which pleasure took pride of place since it was associated with wisdom and self-control to achieve happiness.
Our contemporaries have neither renounced the afterlife nor the spiritual pleasure is for them the yardstick of happiness. Nowadays, pleasure is no longer what calms anxieties but provokes them. A growing number of people aspire to have their bodies preserved inside tanks of liquid nitrogen after death and their minds transferred to a computer.
Juno Calypso, in her latest photographic project, deals with disturbing reflections in which the fear of death, alternative worlds, the artifice, cosmetics, the alienating solitude and the promises of eternal youth are intertwined.
Just as a few years ago it was the chance encounter of a decadent suite’s photograph that led her to travel to Pennsylvania and stay at a luxury hotel for a week (a honeymoon with herself in that now extinct theme park of love), it has been also a chance encounter that has motivated her last voyage: a sale announcement of a luxury bunker in a residential neighborhood of Las Vegas.
The owner of that underground house was a business executive, director of Avon products, that in the sixties, at the height of the Cold War paranoia about the Soviet threat, proposed a project of underground homes. It was not meant to provide provisional shelter but complete households. He had his own mansion-bunker built well equipped to not get bored when the great nuclear catastrophe outside would have destroyed the known world: jacuzzis, bar, dance floor, heated pool, barbecue, artificial garden and even simulation of sunlight and starry night.
The house was preserved intact for decades, as a sealed archaeological site, sheltered from the weather conditions: a time capsule that fascinated Calypso, offering her the ideal environment in which her character (herself as a vain and mysterious redhead) reincarnate, maybe, the ghost of some ancient inhabitant of this simulated limbo.
In The honeymoon, and before with Joyce, the artist had already explored the excessive aesthetic care, the unhealthy obsession with self-preservation, framing magnetic and disturbing atmospheres closed to science fiction. Green clay and facial masks transformed bodies into aliens or automatons; the uncanny was enhanced by the kitsch and timeless pastel-colored décor, doubling or splitting the girl image in faceted mirrors surrounding heart-shaped bathtubs, expressing the gloomy sensuality focused on self-contemplation.
What to do with a million years is the title of her last series, in which she continues to explore the same themes but taking them to a paroxysm, because the last tenants of this timeless bubble dug in the ground, in a certain way, have led the businessman dream to its culmination: from preservation in life (first with the fanciful promises of the cosmetics, then with the chimera of a post-nuclear existence) to preservation during death.
Last tenants were members of a cryonics society, whose brochures Juno found in a cabinet of the underground house and inspired her not only the title of the exhibition, but also several of the staging performed by herself in those rooms full of “eternal life”: in one of the photographs (Die now, pay later) we see, on the floor of the kitchen, two legs wrapped in aluminum foil sticking out behind a piece of furniture with pink mouldings; in How much life is enough? a blue woman (we do not know if she is a specter or is being treated with clay) looks at us through the bathroom mirror; in Immortal bodies, a body immersed in the pool seems preserved in formaldehyde.
“A clone of your own”, “Rosemary’s room” … are other titles that engage with cinematographic codes (thrillers or horror films): the perfect symmetry of the photo composition, disturbing geometries, the chromatic range reduced to milky pinks and blues… They stand at a crossroads between the filmic winks to Kubrick or Polanski and the aesthetics of a lingerie advertisement. Because fear and merchandising go hand in hand. “Everyone wants to appropriate the end of the world”, said Ross (the narrator’s father in Don DeLillo’s novel “Zero K”), a wealthy investor in Convergence, a society of believers in immortality whose cryogenics operations center for terminal patients had been built in a forgotten wilderness of Central Asia.
Juno Calypso, What To Do With A Million Years
can be visited in TJ Boulting gallery, London
until 23th June 2018