Like an animal

Eunkang Koh

Photo/Josie Luciano

Human Cache is on display at Oats Park Arts Center in Fallon through Nov. 22. The Artist Talk and Opening Reception is Oct. 17 from 4 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit
Artworks by Eunkang Koh are on display at Oat Park Arts Center in Fallon.

If you need a palate cleanser between Artown’s month of unobjectionable objects and Burning Man’s deep, dirty desert dive—look no further than Fallon. That’s where mixed media artist and University of Nevada, Reno professor Eunkang Koh will display her latest work in an exhibit titled Human Cache.

It is the kind of show that draws you in, but instead of putting you to sleep or setting your soul on fire, this exhibit leaves the viewer quiet, questioning and a little uneasy. From mid-August until mid-November at Oats Park Art Center, Koh’s particular brand of strange is on display in textile, drawing, sculpture and print. Exhibiting handmade totems from the artist’s sabbatical year in Europe and Asia, each piece is part human, part animal and part commentary on consumer culture. Or as Koh calls it, “creature hybrids.”

This combination of parts has worked well for Koh over the years. She is an artist whose layered critique strikes the perfect balance between playful and rueful—a difficult task for a subject that could easily become clunky in less experienced hands.

Case in point: “The Human Shop” is Koh’s one-room installation that transforms the largest gallery space at Oats Park into a makeshift store. Created while Koh was in India, this piece consists of 120 miniature animal-human figures dressed in manic patterns and imprisoned in clear plastic containers. A few feet away, colorful, ceramic animal and human busts peer out from their stacked, square packages. A third store-like display completes the shop as hundreds of animal-head charms are carefully nestled inside tins the way a child might tuck in tiny figurines, or the way a confectioner might arrange chocolates in a box.

All interpretations speak to Koh’s obsession with the kind of creatures we are—authentic, but nevertheless packaged selves.

“They consume, but they are also consumed,” said Koh.

There’s a moment when you’re walking around the gallery, looking at the dime-a-dozen packaging and brightly colored objects when suddenly you realize that you’re browsing and wondering, “Is this stuff for sale?”

The second room in the gallery pushes Koh’s animal analogy into absurd territory. Titled “Plastic Surgery,” this lithographic print series was inspired by Koh’s home country of South Korea and depicts pre- and post-cosmetic surgery profiles of animals and a few humans. Each correction—a shortened tail, a flattened bump on a beak, evened out antlers—is both funny and sad. The ridiculous image of animals nipping and tucking at their natural features shines an uncomfortably bright light on our own twisted relationship with beauty.

The last series in Human Cache is only human in its gaze. It features drawings of animals and animal parts, begun while the artist was in India and completed back in Reno. Without much of a human touch, this series is an homage to the parts of an animal that we can’t pretend to know, claim, or use as meat.

“I really see animals as animals too,” said Koh. “And I never thought that way before [India]… I just used their image to kind of sell. I’m consuming in my own way, and I felt a little bit too arrogant about it.”

It’s been a little over a year now since Koh has returned from her travels, and she’s still reluctant to declare any universal truths about human nature. Instead, she offers some soft theories on what we’re becoming. Social animals, herd animals, animal-people.

“It’s not even animal or human—it’s something else, like a hybrid.”