Connect. con·nect | \ kə-ˈnekt. An intransitive verb. To become joined.
In the lead up to the release of Map of the Soul: 7, BTS’ embarked on their latest project, Connect, BTS, which truly embodies its title. This project contemplates how connections can occur in unexpected places and in unexpected circumstances, as seen with the opening of the final location and exhibit of Connect, BTS, New York Clearing, created by the English artist Antony Gormley.
In this global collaborative effort between twenty-two artists across five cities on four continents, the members of BTS and the artistic director of Connect, BTS strive to redefine the relationship between art and music, as these are usually seen as two separate entities. The worldwide project also seeks the connections in creativity that will, hopefully, prove to be the “beginning of a new communication between art, music, and people.”
Connect, BTS collaborated with artists and curators to open public art exhibits in London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, and New York City. Those involved with the global project added upon BTS’ philosophy with their own and their imaginations.
New York City’s installation, New York Clearing, was the last of the Connect, BTS projects, It opened on February 3 and will remain open to the public until March 27. It is also outdoors and free-standing. In his interview with BTS, artist Antony Gormley stated, “we can really talk and understand each other in a way that was never available before,” further noting that Connect, BTS makes this fact even more “concrete,” which is a “beautiful thing.”
Gormley’s piece for the project enhanced these ideas as New York Clearing sits in direct view of the concrete jungle of Manhattan on the edge of Brooklyn—even more of a fitting location considering that BTS’ music pays particular attention to the “periphery and the overlooked.” Located on Pier 3 of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the massive structure looks over the East River. The skyline of lower Manhattan dominates the background of the installation, and viewers can see Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge in between the gaps of Clearing.
With his art, Gormley “continually tries to identify the space of art as a place of becoming in which new behaviors, thoughts, and feelings can arise.” This exploration of the concept of space is clear in New York Clearing as one sees the spatial relationship of the body and its environment.
Furthermore, Clearing is completed by the “presence and participation” of those who go visit it. This engagement with the work is crucial to reach a more holistic understanding of the questions and the concepts this installation contemplates. The viewer becomes a part of the artwork, since it is “only completed when people are in it and looking at it, and part of it,” as Gormley notes. He continues by stating that the New York Clearing is “less an object than an experience,” highlighting the creation of an “energy field” within and around the piece.
And an experience that it is. New York Clearing, eleven miles of coiled and twisting aluminum tubes, surrounds you entirely. The work is a part of the environment it was placed in—New York City—and a part of those who stand within it. Moving from the open surroundings to the more enclosed environment creates a natural flow and underscores the openness of the Clearing and the absence of boundaries.
Although one can stand inside the coiled chaos, it is more open than expected. It does not feel as if the aluminum is crushing you—the experience has an airy and light feeling to it. The thinner strips of aluminum are very malleable. If one of the thinner pieces are touched or shaken slightly, it will cause the other tubes to also move. This suggests the impact of actions and the influences of even the smallest of gestures.
Furthermore, there is infinite visual motion: the eye follows the coils regardless of where it may end up. Some of the larger masses of connected coils are joined by others and go along the same track for a little while until they split off. The center, naturally, is where the most cords are bound together, creating a place to ground the installation. The flow of the structure reminds one of the brain and the connections it continuously makes. This idea manifested in the Clearing can suggest how humans are inherently connected in the human experience.
During the opening of New York Clearing, Gormley mentioned that the “art world can be quite self-centered, quite internalized.” The artistic director of the project, DaeHyung Lee, added onto the thought in stating, “we are building invisible walls around the world” by institutionalizing art and creating boundaries around who can access those ideas and cultures expressed through art. Gormley’s piece for Connect, BTS seeks to “reaffirm that art is essentially everyone’s, that it is made for sharing.”
Another significant aspect of Connect, BTS and New York Clearing is that each visitor derives their own meaning from the work, as there is no “right” answer. The artists of the happenings and Fluxus movements (of the 1950s) began this in discouraging the audience from thinking about the artists’ intention, an variation of Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author.” It is not to say that the artist does not play a critical role in their work, but this metaphorical “death” pushes for the viewer to determine the meaning of the piece based on their own life experiences. Since everyone’s experiences are different, the meaning that one derives from these artworks will vary from person to person—and there is no right way of thinking about them.
During his interview with BTS, Gormley addresses J-hope’s question about the message of the Clearing by contemplating that “it’s dangerous to think that art has a message to give.” Gormley continues his explanation, saying, “art is a place where we can maybe sense our own being in a more direct way than anything else” and where “we can feel our own energy, own our vitality, and our own being in a special way.” We, as the viewers, as those experiencing a piece of art, gives that work its meaning through our personal experiences. This global creative collaboration, at its root, “gives us ways to understand human life.”
This can also be found in BTS’ music. With fans of BTS stretching across the globe, each person interprets the band’s music in a multitude of ways. BTS describes their music as an “empathetic vision for the world.” Their art does not ignore suffering, nor does it exclude joy from their narratives, but the members approach their music with the understanding that empathy and compassion can go a long way to form new perspectives of the world we live in. The seven members put their art out into the world, and those who listen use their experiences to find meanings personal to them. Music, like New York Clearing, means something different for everyone.
There is so much unknown in this world, and that burden gets to be so much sometimes. We are constantly searching for something that will ground us, and music and art can be that thing. They can feel intangible or difficult to understand, but in that struggle for understanding—and in the artists’ desire to communicate something—there is a kind of mutual grounding. Our feet can be firmly on the ground in the shared emotion we bring through our experiences.
There is mutual comfort and support as a result of a deeper connection such as the one between BTS and ARMY. They built BTS together: without BTS, there would be no ARMY, but at the same time, without ARMY, BTS would not be who they are today.
As RM said during the launch of the London exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery, “I hope more people can believe in the power of art, that it can help and change the world.” Through Connect, BTS, this power of art is showcased. The seven members and their global project bring a new audience and new perceptions of art and its intersection with music. With this project, BTS encourages their fans to look up and look around because art is all around us.