A Balloon. And BTS. Image copyright Tomás Saraceno / Getty
Image caption 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.”

Image copyright Antony Gormley
Image caption 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.”

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

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

One of the works, Yiyun Kang’s Beyond A Sin, is billed as a “re-imagining of BTS’ signature dance movements as seen through the techniques of projection mapping”.

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.

And 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.”

Image copyright BTS
Image caption BTS announced the project by video link from South Korea

The boyband, who have had conversations with the 22 artists taking part, 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,” said 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.”


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