Korean boy band BTS expands the art experience with 22 artists across five cities

STIR speaks to Daehyung Lee, the Artistic Director of CONNECT-BTS, a global project at the crossroads of music and new media art in London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul and New York.

by Sukanya Garg Published on : Jul 31, 2020

STIR indulges in a conversation with Daehyung Lee, founder of the Hzone curatorial company in Korea and Director of the Nam June Paik Cultural Foundation, about the CONNECT-BTS project for which he serves as the Artistic Director. The hugely successful global initiative, which lies at the intersection of contemporary music and art, brought together artists and curators from five major global cities, including the likes of Hans Ulrich Obrist, Stephanie Rosenthal, Antony Gormley, and Yiyun Kang. Previously, Lee was the founding art director of the Hyundai Motor Company for six years and also curated the Korean Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Fly with Aerocene Pacha: Tomás Saraceno for Aerocene, 21-28 January 2020, Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, Human Solar Free Flight as part of Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee, Installation View 2 | CONNECT, BTS | Tomás Saraceno | STIRworld
Fly with Aerocene Pacha: Tomás Saraceno for Aerocene, January 21-28, 2020, Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, Human Solar Free Flight as part of Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee, Installation view 2 Image Credit: Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2020, Courtesy of the artist and Aerocene Foundation, Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by Aerocene Foundation

Excerpts from the conversation...

Sukanya Garg (SG): Could you talk about the kind of collaborations and the thematic focus of the CONNECT-BTS Project? 

Daehyung Lee (DL): The question of “how to expand art” is a topic of interest for all curators. Art is a treasure island that contains philosophy, thought and history. But what if this island was isolated? Its true potential would not be appreciated. BTS, with their respect for diversity, is a powerful context that can expand the value of art. They thus possess the power to bring contemporary art to the public domain. I planned this project, recalling the idea that art is not an exclusive property of a certain few, but a valuable experience that many can share together. 

Last summer, I shared some philosophical stories about art and society, art and people, art and the future at a meal with the Big Hit's officials, and there were many areas of consensus with the art community. We wanted the good aspects of art to be shared with more people. Surely, I am not the only one with such concerns. The Serpentine Galleries, where Hans Ulrich Obrist serves as an Artistic Director, also shares the same concern. The gallery, which has preserved the tradition of modern and contemporary art for the past 50 years, is now focused on the question of “how to expand the definition of art”. They are particularly interested in digital technologies, which is a primary reason for why it was the first modern art gallery to recruit a Chief Technology Officer. 

This project is a public art project that involves five cities and 22 artists. I was the art director curating the exhibitions in Buenos Aires and Seoul. I believe observing social phenomena and its generation is the key to planning an exhibition. As the digital revolution in the 21st century was triggered, people thought technology would equally distribute information and therefore open up an equal world. This, however, was not the case. Ironically, the world became increasingly exclusive. The message that BTS reaches out to us at such times is quite encouraging. I thought such attitudes like positivity about diversity, communication, hope for the outskirts were all key to the idea of connectivity.

Antony Gormley, NEW YORK CLEARING, 2020, Approximately 18km (11mi) of 25.4mm (1in) square section aluminium and steel spigots, Installation view, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 3, New York City, 2020| CONNECT, BTS | Antony Gormley| STIRworld
Antony Gormley’s NEW YORK CLEARING, 2020, approximately 18km (11mi) of 25.4mm (1in) square section aluminium and steel spigots, installation view, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 3, New York City, 2020 Image Credit: Photograph by Christopher Burke. © the artist

SG: How has this project impacted the contemporary art scene globally, especially in Korea?

DL: About two years ago, I had a serious conversation concerning the future of art with Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine Galleries - our London partner for this exhibition. The combination of art with digital technology means the centre of its gravity shifts to the idea of “experience” rather than “collection.” We aligned our thoughts together then that the protagonist of art is not the artist but the audience, and that there should be a positive impact on the world through collaboration. The method of collaboration thus expanded to that of genre and space. Collaborations in the past usually occurred as combinations of content with content. However, it is now necessary to approach the term as a combination of context with context. It is two heterogeneous subjects becoming each other’s context – like art becoming a directional guide for technology, and in contrast, technology providing ways for art to embody what it tries to express.

Ann Veronica Janssens, Green, Yellow and Pink, artificial fog, green, yellow, and pink filter, Dimensions variable, 2017, Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin | CONNECT, BTS | Ann Veronica Janssens | STIRworld
Ann Veronica Janssens, Green, Yellow and Pink: artificial fog, green, yellow, and pink filter, dimensions variable, 2017; Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin Image Credit: Photo © Jang Jun-Ho

SG: The COVID-19 crisis has stalled most art endeavours right now. Will the project be resumed after the crisis is stemmed? What does BTS plan to do next? 

DL: Fortunately, all exhibitions other than those in Seoul and Buenos Aires were able to have sound closures. We are talking with the city of Seoul concerning the probability of reopening the Seoul exhibition, but the possible dates and details will be flexible depending on the COVID-19 situation. The last video screening to be held in Buenos Aires has been cancelled due to the pandemic, and we are working with the Saraceno Studio to prepare an online screening that is available 24 hours. Possible dates for this are also in coordination. 

SG: As the Art Director of the Hyundai Motor Company, what kind of projects did you curate? 

DL: At the Hyundai Motor Company, I oversaw directing global museum partnerships with Tate, LACMA, MMCA, and more. And during the 2017 Venice Biennale, I introduced artists Cody Choi and Lee Wan through the Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain exhibition at the Korean Pavilion. 

Fly with Aerocene Pacha: Tomás Saraceno for Aerocene, January 21-28, 2020, Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, Human Solar Free Flight as part of Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee, installation view 1 | CONNECT, BTS | Tomás Saraceno | STIRworld
Fly with Aerocene Pacha: Tomás Saraceno for Aerocene, January 21-28, 2020, Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, Human Solar Free Flight as part of Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee, installation view 1 Image Credit: Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2020; Courtesy of the artist and Aerocene Foundation, Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by Aerocene Foundation

SG: Could you talk about other contemporary artists who are changing the Korean contemporary art scene locally and globally? How does it compare with the Asian art scene, and the global art scene? 

DL: Many artists have been making an influence on the global art world beyond Korea in various aspects, including philosophy, materiality, production method, and visitor experience. However, it is unfortunate that Korean-led global publication is still minimal and that research linked to school curricula and art history is relatively lacking. Representatively, artists like Do Ho Suh, Kimsooja, Lee Bul, and Haegue Yang are being frequently mentioned and studied in the global art world. Asian art has survived in the contemporary art world and its industry, sometimes arbitrarily and sometimes forcefully receiving interpretations of identity and meaning in the new landscape brought by technology and globalism as it emerged from the shadow of late colonialism. We should now be able to look away from nationalism and Asian-ism, and look at true individuals. The Korean artists mentioned previously, at least, were faithful to their individual stories. And it is in these small stories where one discovers a new perspective of looking at history, which is what resonates and empathises with the global audience.

Launch of CONNECT BTS | CONNECT, BTS | Daehyung Lee | STIRworld
Launch of CONNECT BTS Image Credit: Greg Morrison, Cultureshock

SG: What’s STIRring now?

DL: There is a project I am working on as an extension of my long-standing interest in “curating economy” through art. It is still in veil - please look forward to the next 2.5 years.

(Click here to know more about CONNECT-BTS.)

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased at multiple exhibitions.

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