“When Reno artist Eunkang Koh first started using animals as stand-ins for people, it seemed like a pretty straightforward thing to do. Some people just seemed like they’d be best represented as dogs or snakes. But the more she dove in, the deeper things got.

She studied up on traditional stories from her native South Korea and found a lot of characters that were animal/human hybrids. Then, she learned there were similar hybrids in myths and stories around the world. Then, she started studying how animal words seep into languages. (One example: “catty” to describe someone who’s spiteful or gossipy.)

Now, Koh churns out a steady stream of animals that ooze with pathos and politics, turning a stark light and a revealing mirror on humans. Could be “Political Assholes We Wish to Avoid,” a 2017 series in which suited-up critters—a turtle, a rat, a moose—are drained of all cuteness and rendered dour, cagey, and antagonistic. Could be a narwhal with human hands, dignity lost somewhere in a mistranslation pun. Language, misunderstandings, and awkward communications figure prominently into Koh’s animal images. And now that she’s been making them for years and years, she’s populated a rich world full of them, showing us as many angles on human anxiety.

The way Koh sees it, she always had all of these interests—ancient myths, linguistics, contemporary angst. The animals just happened to work as a theme to bring them all together into a bundle of fine points.

Given all that, if I tell you that, a few years ago, in the midst of a month of intense work and military-grade regiment—make, sleep, eat, repeat—Koh decided to amuse herself by painting the foods she was eating, you’ll probably guess that this lighthearted technical experiment took a pretty quick turn for the pathological, the eerie, and the unbelievably seductive. It did. 

For years now, Koh has been one-upping food Instagrammers by making something even prettier than food photos—beautiful drawings, subdued in color, positively indulgent in tone, of milkshakes, donuts, steak, shrimp, fish fillets, oysters, eggs, paella, ceviche, and just about any other food you can think of. Because, of course, she has been mining food imagery for every last drop of psychology, obsession, identity, and sensuality it’s got.  

Tomorrow, Feb. 19, Koh will give a lecture on her work, thoughts, and research around her drawings and notions of “food porn.” For starters, she’s discovered a whole genre of YouTubers who make content to keep solo diners company, and another whole genre of YouTubers demonstrating the half-gross, half-irresistible sounds of chewing crunchy confections

Eunkang Koh‘s lecture, “The Visual Culture of Food and Desire” takes place Wednesday, Feb. 19, 6-7:30 p.m., in Room 124 in the Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. Admission is free.

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Posted by Kris Vagner

Kris Vagner, Double Scoop's Editor, has been reporting on arts and culture since 2004. She thinks it’s important that Double Scoop speak to art-world insiders and casual art fans alike. Kris has earned awards for critical writing, entertainment writing, feature writing, and—somehow—sportswriting. More at www.krisvagner.com.

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