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Graduate student Doyeon Kim conveys theme of identity through 3D simulations

In a darkly lit space, Doyeon Kim stands atop his latest video installation, “Drift.” Flowing toward the center of the piece, yellow life rafts serve as the core symbol of the piece, which the design media arts graduate student said centers on themes of self, home and migration. (Courtesy of Doyeon Kim)

By Christine Kao

April 4, 2023 8:32 p.m.

Doyeon Kim remedies spatial disconnection through immersive installations.

The design media arts graduate student said he began creating computer graphics in 2018 – a shift from his undergraduate practice of oil painting and photography. Building 3D simulations initially served as a solution for Kim to continue conceptualizing his ideas while dealing with a health issue, but Kim said he has since embraced the medium as his primary art form. The artist’s move from Seoul to Los Angeles, followed by two years of service in the South Korean Navy, led him to explore the theme of identity and detachment in his latest video installation, “Drift.”

“In ‘Drift,’ I guess it can be solace for all the people who have to leave their former society and struggle to find some kind of feeling of inclusion in new environments,” Kim said.

Yellow life rafts – 3D-modeled in both English and Korean characters of the words “we” – float across the screen in the nautical video installation. More of these buoyant boats accumulate at the center of the digital canvas, sailing along the sound of crashing waves. “Drift” exemplifies how Kim zooms in on a specific concept with his works that are grounded by his 3D rendering skills and visual aesthetics, said design media arts graduate student Bobby Joe Smith III.

“This most recent work is really thinking about, ‘What does it mean to be a part of the Korean diaspora?’” Smith said. “What does it mean to be away from home? What does it mean to have to migrate and wanting to bring culture with you?”

[Related: Graduate student’s artwork harnesses hyper-femininity to comment on identity]

Kim said he has craved fresh perspectives from other parts of the world after living in Seoul for more than 25 years, which encouraged him to continue his education overseas. He said his artwork contemplates and critiques the impact of capitalism and globalization as they accelerate a stream of immigration that he has become a part of.

The experience of moving across the sea has allowed stories and inspiration to flow naturally to him, yet, at the same time, it has often evoked a feeling of isolation intensified by language barriers, Kim said. Integrating Korean letters into his work helps him battle the unease of feeling distant from a language he loves, he added. Kim hopes that “Drift,” rooted in personal experiences and emotions, can comfort audiences who are also on their journeys of adapting to an unfamiliar space, he said.

As a fellow international student from Korea, Hyun Cho, Kim’s colleague in the design media arts graduate program, said she connects to the migration theme in “Drift” and the flustered feeling that the work expresses. Cho added that Kim’s projects translate his ideas effectively by embodying a realistic graphic style.

“I could relate to what he felt, which is the precarious status of living as a foreigner in a different country,” Cho said.

The impact of Kim’s work is strengthened by his thoughtful choices of the physical spaces onto which his animations are projected, Cho said. Kim also uses the movements of objects in his rendered world to inform his narratives, expanding beyond the technique of applying physics and particle systems to create digital simulations, Smith said.

In “December,” another of Kim’s computer graphic animations, 3D models of pronouns colored in different skin tones jam into each other and wiggle tightly. Data tracking the motion of worldwide dances, such as tango and hip-hop, direct the movements of these inflatable letters. Kim attempted to simulate a society where people find harmony in their differences and count on each other even when conflicts emerge, he said. The piece also expresses his appreciation for the diverse population residing in LA, he added.

[Related: Graduate student discusses process behind multimedia art piece ‘Golden Mountain’]

"Drift" is projected on the floor of a dark room. Kim said his experiences deeply inspire his multimedia works. Through artistically expressing these emotions, such as the isolation he said he felt after moving from Seoul to Los Angeles, he hopes to invoke a sense of community and hope in viewers with similar experiences. (Courtesy of Doyeon Kim)
"Drift" is projected on the floor of a dark room. Kim said his experiences deeply inspire his multimedia works. Through artistically expressing these emotions, such as the isolation he said he felt after moving from Seoul to Los Angeles, he hopes to invoke a sense of community and hope in viewers with similar experiences. (Courtesy of Doyeon Kim)

Human beings rely on each other to survive regardless of their different backgrounds, Kim said, which is why he uses his work to depict a heterogeneous community where people unite even when facing conflict. While learning to define himself through his artwork, Kim said he also aspires to invite viewers to reflect on their own identity and empathize with the people around them.

“As my work occupy some space where audiences look and wander around but can also be somebody else, I hope they can be a place that gives them (audiences) some opportunities to share universal emotions and have some sympathy for others who have migrated from other nations or societies,” Kim said.

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Christine Kao | Photographer
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