A Balloon. And BTS.

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Tomás Saraceno / Getty

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The BTS balloon will be similar to this sculpture, created by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno in 2007

A hot air balloon made of recycled plastic bags will fly from London to Seoul as part of an art project launched by Korean pop band BTS.

Designed by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno, the balloon will be entirely self-propelled, using wind and solar power to complete its journey.

“It’s a way to connect people across countries, across energies, across generations,” Saraceno told the BBC.

BTS fans are being enlisted to help the balloon complete its “K-hop” journey.

They will be able to track the sculpture’s progress across Europe, Russia, China and Korea; offering support when, as dusk falls, the balloon loses its buoyancy and lands.

“Then the next morning, when the sun comes up, we can re-launch it,” said Saraceno, who has previously installed static versions of his heat-activated Aerocene balloon, in Argentina and the US.

He said he was inspired to attempt a cross-continental flight by the “golden points of shame on my card of carbon emissions”, asking himself: “Can we send [the balloon] from here to BTS in Korea free from fossil fuels?”

“From the Wright Brothers, who invented the airplane, it was always about the combustion engine,” he said. “We have to wait for the wind to take us there. It’s unlocking a certain way of being attuned to the rhythm of the planet.”

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Antony Gormley

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Sir Antony Gormley will install a giant aluminium “scribble” in New York

The flight is just one element of an ambitious cross-continent art project established by K-pop band BTS.

Connect, BTS involves free installations in five cities on four continents, with high-profile artists like Sir Antony Gormley, Bill Fontana and Yiyun Kang all creating pieces.

The band said it was “a great honour to participate… with such renowned artists and curators”.

“What was meaningful for us is how these artwork are completed through the experience of the people who see them,” said band-member Jeon Jung-kook.

“We also feel our performances are made complete with our fans. So we found a common ground between what we do with the music and with the art.”

Art projects will go on show in London, Berlin, New York, Buenos Aires and Seoul.

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Jackob Kudsk Steensen

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Jackob Kudsk Steensen’s immersive forest installation was described as a “science fiction project”

One of the works, Yiyun Kang’s Beyond The Scene, is billed as a “re-imagining of BTS’ signature dance movements”, projected onto the walls of the Dongdaemun Plaza in downtown Seoul.

Kang said she had studied the band’s choreography for hours while developing the installation. “Sometimes my eyes cannot focus on the screen anymore, because I’ve been watching so many videos on YouTube,” she told the BBC.

She also interviewed the band’s fans, known affectionately as the “BTS Army”, to give her piece added context.

“Just copying the choreography doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The essence of the BTS phenomenon is that you have to be more inclusive, to be more sustainable so we can live together. “

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Yiyun Kang said being the only Korean artist to participate in the project was “a huge honour”

Not to be outdone, Angel of the North sculptor Sir Antony Gormley is creating a “drawing in space” on Brooklyn Bridge in New York using 16km of aluminium tubing that loops around and turns in on itself.

The artist confessed he hadn’t heard of BTS until he was approached to take part in the project last month.

“I had to do a very rapid, self-taught course on K-Pop,” he said.

In Berlin, 17 performance artists will explore themes of healing and community. Meanwhile, Saraceno will use another one of his balloons to set a new world record for solar-powered human flight, above the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s great salt lake.

‘Bridge building’

In London, the Serpentine gallery is host to Catharsis, a digital recreation of an ancient forest by Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen.

Visitors will find themselves seeing everything from the trees’ underground roots to the view from the forest canopy high in the sky as it changes with the effects of sunlight and wind. Fans can also experience the “virtual forest” online at catharsis.live.

Serpentine Gallery artistic director Hans-Ulrich Obrist said the project was about “bridge-building”.

“It’s about connecting everyone who is interested with BTS with everyone who is interested in contemporary art. It’s all about creating these new junctions.”

It has not been disclosed how much the whole project will cost.

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BTS

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BTS announced the project by video link from South Korea

BTS have become one of the biggest bands on the planet, playing two sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium last year summer.

Speaking by video-link from Seoul, the septet said they wanted to “give back some of the amazing love that we receive”.

“We have always been inspired by the ability of music to communicate across borders, which is not very different to what art does,” they said.

“I just became a fan of what they call fine art and visual art from last year, so I’m just a beginner,” added singer Kim Nam-joon, who is also known to fans as RM.

“So currently my favourite hobby is to visit all the galleries and museums and see all the great pieces. It gives me a whole other world of thrill and shock and inspiration.”

The project has been curated by renowned Korean artist Daehyung Lee, who pulled together the various strands in just seven months.

“Connecting five different cities means connecting five different time zones and five different [art] institutions,” he explained. “So conceptually, ‘connect’ is a beautiful word – but physically and mentally and biologically it’s quite dangerous.”

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Big Hit Entertainment

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The band have become a global phenomenon

He said the goal was to unite people of “different cultural backgrounds, social classes, ethnicities genders and identities”, reflecting the way BTS’s music had broken down borders.

Sir Antony Gormley said it was this philosophy that had persuaded him to take part.

“This is such a refreshing break-out,” he said. “We have become used to the silos of the culture industry. We have been used to receiving art through the agency of the gallery, the museum, the art fair and the Biennale. All of them are speaking to the converted.

“This is a little, self-serving art world. Here is an opportunity for us to jump out of our silos.”


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