In the suburbs of Las Vegas is an enormous underground bunker. Seriously, like, massive: it has a pool, a house, a garden, a barbecue, everything you could need for an eternity underground. It’s the physical embodiment of the two heartbeats throbbing in America’s chest: grandiose, overblown, chintzy opulence, and abject fear of annihilation.
English artist and photographer Juno Calypso found that bunker for sale on the internet and descended to explore it. What she found was a pristine 1970s underground time capsule owned by an ‘immortalist’ cult. Everything was untouched – the perfect white and pink kitchen, the dustless fake roses, the glittering latrine.
Walking down into Calypso’s show you find yourself in a recreation of the bunker. Fake grass crinkles underfoot, pink light floods in from the ceiling, a faux-classical fountain burbles in the corner, grooving slow jams float through the air.
Calypso appears in the photos on the walls. She’s emerging from the bath in a facemask and glittering diamante bikini, bent over the kitchen counter in a towelling bathrobe. And then you realise there’s poison in the air: you spy a pair of legs on the floor, bare and seen from outside in one image, or wrapped oddly in tin foil in another. She’s a blue spectre nude in the mirror, or a forlorn figure sat on the toilet floor, or a floating corpse in the pool. It’s titillating but noxiously ominous.
Everything here crackles with tension and threat. If this is a moment frozen in time, it feels on the verge of screaming violently to life. There’s this air of desperation to the work – this is art about beauty, about the obsession to grab hold of youth and suffocate it. The bunker was built to save people from a future they feared more than anything: death. Calypso turns it into a simple metaphor for our fear of ageing, or getting ugly, or going bald. It’s scary because it’s relatable.
There’s a lot of art in the world, and not many photographers manage to carve out their own visual niche. But Juno Calypso has. Her work is so full of nostalgic references that it somehow feels familiar, but all of those memories have been twisted into something sinister. Her work is immediately recognisable as hers.
Down in Calypso’s subterranean world, you feel like you’re about to be locked away and tortured, but what you’re being threated with isn’t physical violence – it’s the prospect of living for ever. And that’s a hell of a lot more terrifying.