Korean singers who also make art: 'Artainer' exhibition speaks out against online violence and climate change

″Artainers,″ or entertainers who double as artists, pose for photos during a press conference for their exhibition ″bbuck on & off″ held on July 3 in Itaewon, central Seoul. [ARTVERSE]

Artist and singer Kwon Ji-an, Lee Min-woo of first-generation K-pop band Shinhwa, singer Jang Hye-jin, singer Junggigo and more — 12 veteran stars gathered at central Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood on Wednesday not for a concert or a television show, but to introduce a special art exhibition featuring 30 artists who both entertain and create art.

Anointing themselves as “artainers” — a portmanteau comprising the words artist and entertainer — the group kicked off an art exhibition titled “bbuck on & off” at a space called Process that has been turned from a restaurant and bar into an exhibition hall for this occasion.

The exhibition features 30 artainers, including the 12 who were present at Wednesday’s press conference, as well as 18 other names, ranging from boy band 2PM member Chansung and singer Kim Wan-sun to entertainer Jun Hyun-moo and Russian model Angelina Danilova, who have each created new works for the exhibition.

Works by Nam June Paik, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bob Dylan and Johnny Depp are also on display.

The artainers’ exhibition revolves around the mishaps that ail the contemporary world in both the online and offline spaces, hence the “on & off” portion in the title of the exhibition. The “ bbuck” part is a Korean slang term for when a computer crashes, and it is often used to describe when a situation goes awry.

Singer and artist Kwon Ji-an, also known as Solbi, poses in front of her work during a press conference held on July 3 at the opening of the ″bbuck on & off″ exhibition in Itaewon, central Seoul. [ARTVERSE]
Singer Lee Min-woo of K-pop band Shinhwa poses in front of his work during a press conference held on July 3 at the opening of the ″bbuck on & off″ exhibition in Itaewon, central Seoul. [ARTVERSE]

“This exhibition is about the Earth having gone ‘bbuck’ regarding the overload of plastic in the real world and the violence in the online world,” Lee Jung-kwon, the general director of the exhibition, said. “But most importantly, I wanted to redefine the ‘artainer’ group and answer the question, ‘Who are these artainers and what do they do?’ We wanted to expand on the borders of what people think artainers do and explain to them that it includes a diverse pool of talents.”

The works have been removed of their labels on purpose so that viewers get to delve into the meaning of each work without the inevitable prejudice that pops up the instant they realize which singer or actor was behind the canvas — because such prejudices are real and violent, the artists said.

“I began painting in order to heal from becoming the target of online violence just because I was a celebrity,” said Kwon Ji-an, who debuted as Solbi with R&B trio Typhoon in 2006.

She began holding solo exhibitions of her paintings in 2012 and has established herself as an esteemed artist since. For “bbuck on & off,” Kwon created an installation piece using apples as the motif, which she has done for years after seeing an online comment that said, “Do you even know how to draw an apple?”

Singer Jang Hye-jin in front of her work at the ″bbuck on & off″ art exhibition in Itaewon, central Seoul [ARTVERSE]
Jang Hye-jin's ″Flow Sonata″ [ARTVERSE]

“Cyberbullying is real, not only for us celebrities but for everyone in schools, workplaces or anywhere in the society,” she said. “I’m so proud and happy to be able to express myself like this and help others speak out and be healed, like I was. I hope this really becomes a chance to raise awareness on the cyber violence issue.”

As per the online assaults she’s still getting, Kwon is more than ready.

“Throw me any comments, and I’ll just turn them into another art piece,” she said.

Kwon’s experience of healing through art was echoed by many of the artists present at the exhibition, such as Shinhwa’s Lee. Lee debuted in 1998 as part of the boy band and started his solo singing career as singer M in 2003.

“I think I got ‘bbuck’ working so long in the entertainment industry,” he said. “I actually always dreamed of becoming an artist, so being able to participate like this made me so happy. Being in the spotlight makes people think that your life is glamorous, which it isn’t. I’ve felt myself like a clown and so I just poured all that into my work.”

Kwon Ji-an's ″a(k)pple land″ [ARTVERSE]
Singer Lee Min-woo of K-pop band Shinhwa speaks during a press conference held on July 3 at the opening of the ″bbuck on & off″ exhibition in Itaewon, central Seoul. [ARTVERSE]

Also working in partnership with the exhibition is global nonprofit Greenpeace. Visitors can access a QR code that links them to a website containing seven methods to reduce the usage of plastic in their everyday lives.

“This exhibition will not be a one-time thing,” director Lee said. “We are planning on expanding this to another city and other issues. We will always talk about the zeitgeist and social issues, including war and racism.”

Tickets to the exhibition cost 20,000 won ($15) for adults, 13,000 won for teenagers and 11,000 won for children. The exhibit will open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. An art night event will take place every Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight featuring different artists and musicians. The art night event costs 25,000 won.