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Artist Spotlight: Savannah Calhoun

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. Their works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. In this post, we are featuring Savannah Calhoun (she/they).

Savannah uses different mediums and structures to play with photographs and infuse them with new context.

Photo of the artist, Savannah Calhoun. Her art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Savannah Calhoun is an image-based artist residing in Cedar Rapids, IA, and from Indianapolis, IN. Her work playfully addresses image culture given the circumstances of the internet from a queer and feminist perspective. She received a BFA in Photography from Herron School of Art and Design in 2019 and an MFA from the University of Missouri in 2022. She currently teaches photography at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Savannah did a Q&A with The Layered Onion (TLO), talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say my style could be described as colorful and eccentric, but heavily borrows from cyber-based aesthetics as well as still life.

With what mediums do you work?

I work with photography, installation, new media, and digital collage.

You recently had a show called “cyber fantasy.” How did you get the idea for the show?

A photo of Savannah's gallery show - cyber fantasy. Plays with digital and electronics. Explores art and the internet.

Art for mental health/art and mental health.

Before this work, I was making still lifes and self portraits. I found ways to kind of cross those concepts over within this work by including objects, arms, and hands. It started mostly because I was visiting the University’s surplus warehouse where they place everything that they don’t use anymore/have replaced, etc. I found tons of old tech there and started photographing it, thinking about how the obsolescence of technology resembles Vanitas still life.

Photo from the installation in Iowa. Iowa artist. Overlapped images. Video and multimedia art. AI voice and AI vocals.

The show features some interesting layered works – super neat. What inspired you to use more of the walls in that way?

I got the opportunity to see Everywhere there is splendor” by Farah al-Qasimi at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and see her artist talk. I was really stuck by something she said about the connections of the color pink between the mural photos and the framed photos that were superimposed on them, and how it was bodily, thus inherently, tied to identity. This then made me consider the connections of materiality and source material to photography, which led to those layered works.  

I also saw your video, Glitch, on Instagram – do you often work with videos? What led you to video? How did you generate the AI voice? 

I work with video and new media pretty frequently! I started making video art when I was an undergraduate because I enrolled in a video course. From there, I just really grew to love it as a second medium to work with. I generated the AI voice using an online text to speech generator, with the text from Glitch Feminism pasted in, and recorded the speaking with a microphone.

I’m drawn to this piece (below) where you mention “thinking about cameras as they relate to the body” and your inspiration for the future. What an interesting concept! What direction are you thinking about going in?

I think in Cyber Fantasy and the work I’ve made since, I have wanted to address photography itself. That includes all of the working parts of a photograph – the camera, the digital tools used in post production, etc. The working title of my current project is Portals & Hauntologies. I consider this piece a part of it, and in that work I’m thinking about transmission to the internet as well as nostalgia.

Photography. A camera and digital tools. Mental health through the arts. Work with Photoshop.
Savannah Calhoun, Camera Eye. Digital Collage, 2022.

You also teach – what kind of topics do you cover? Is it inspiring to work with students?

I teach Design and Photography courses. I really love teaching and working with students, it’s a pleasure to share what I love with others.

Any advice for fellow artists looking to get started with this type of art?

Allow yourself to spend some time in photoshop really just playing and being curious. 

The blend of future with past aesthetics and the play on size draws you into Savannah’s work – I’m excited to see where she goes from here.  Savannah’s work is also on display in TLO’s shows! You can see more of Savannah’s work on her website or her Instagram @sav.calhoun. Thanks, Savannah!