In her artistic work, Zoyeon instils a sense of wonder and helplessness of life as a foreigner, with a reference to the Hamel’s Journal, by inviting the spectator on a virtual journey to an imaginary destination, created with collage of randomly searched images and AI-generated portraits.
Originally titled «Journael van de ongeluckige voyagie van ‚t jacht de Sperwer» (en. The Journal of the Unfortunate Voyage of the Jaght the Sperwer), the book details the experience of Hendrick Hamel, a Dutch bookkeeper who was stranded in Korea in 1653 and lived there as a detainee for 13 years before his release. During his detainment in Korea, he was given a relative freedom to live a normal life among the locals, which allowed him to make a detailed account of how he experienced the Korean society in the 17th century as a white man—in both wonder and helplessness.
Zoyeon draws a parallel between her experience as a Korean woman living in Europe in the 21st century and that of Hamel’s, where one needs to verse in a new language and culture in order to survive, as opposed to where one was understood merely by existing. She especially mulls on the ambivalence of the experience, where one is received with both hospitality and oppression. Thus, ambivalence becomes one of the key motives of the work, depicted through reiterated juxtapositions of real and imagined customs that are seemingly paradoxical: a racist society whose common sense is that racism is wrong; a deeply carnivorous society that is densely populated with vegans; a society that loves and hates blonde women.
Another key motif in her work is the sense of being othered—of not belonging, and not grasping the logic of discrimination. The artist translates the feeling of being adrift—as a woman in Korea, and as a foreigner, Asian, and a woman in Germany—into a visual narrative, whilst questioning whether she is an expat or a detainee herself. In the process of instilling a sense of being othered in spectators, she satirically employs the Eurocentric colonial language that Hamel used in his account of Korea—the language that still ominously oppresses in the 21st century.
Zoyeon’s work takes a form of a combination of panoramic photograph and fictitious journal entries, where one can follow the narrative of a journey into the imaginary unknown. Multiple photographs dissolve into one another, while the boundaries of collaged objects are blurred. The texts are montaged onto the panoramic picture, accounting imaginary persons, messages, and events encountered on the journey.