Oh, the humanity!
Step into Eunkamg Koh’s Humanscape and enter a fantastically whimsical, imaginary world of plant, people and animal creatures in various circumstances, at once intriguing and humorous, while also maintaining a subtly disturbing tone.
The exhibition is comprised of sculpture, handmade books, drawings and prints—more than 40 pieces in all. We are treated, therefore, to a full survey of Koh’s work. Take time to absorb it all. There’s a lot to digest not only in the number of pieces but also in the content. It’s worth the effort.
The bizarre scenes and characters Koh presents are reminiscent of similarly strange worlds created by 15th and 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, as well as those of 15th century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Koh’s work and personal philosophy are heavily influenced by Korean myth and the elaborate Buddhist hybrid creatures and folk tales she was exposed to as a child.
Originally from Korea, Koh received her bachelor’s degree from HongIk University in Seoul. She then earned her master’s degree in fine arts at Cal State, Long Beach, after exhibiting her work in numerous countries, including Korea, Japan, Bulgaria, Great Britain and the United States. She moved to Reno in 2006 to serve on the UNR faculty.
The three-dimensional works in Humanscape are wonderful, but the strength in this show is the two-dimensional work. Here, it’s the prints that rule the room. Comparatively, the drawings are overly flat in composition and lash out with over-keyed color against heavy black shapes and black topographic lines.
In Koh’s prints, the subtle watercolor-eque tones combine with fine detail and depth to draw the viewer into engaging, interactive scenes.
Of particular note, “Slaughter (2007),” depicts numerous characters—some with human heads and torsos and beastly legs, another a fish form with human legs, a couple of bird creatures also with man-legs—hanging upside down, legs or arms bound with a rope tethering them to something in the top of the frame. As perilous and uncomfortable as the situation appears, the characters are calm and relaxed, oblivious to what’s in store as we’re foretold by the title of the piece. The oddness of the work and the enormous amount of detail, which are common threads through Koh’s art, draws the viewer in for a long look. This piece is particularly well composed. The characters are innocently charming even when grotesque, to an almost endearing effect.
This same compliment suits “Still Life (2007).” Koh plays off this genre, alluding to elements traditionally found in still life works—a cornucopia of food, a butterfly—but makes it all her own. The butterfly has a human head and is situated in a skillet. The garlic and squash have human heads attached. The fish have skinny little arms and legs. The orange has a layer of fur. Most notable is the severed foot at stage left. The foot has been partially skinned, showing muscles and bones, surrounded by so much other pieces-and-parts chaos. Presented as gently as it is, the body part actually takes on a less sickening and almost friendlier personality.
Such transformations to our perception, such transcendence, is a vein that Koh repeatedly taps in Humanscapes.