Space Out Competition

For an artist-led contest in South Korea, the question is simple: do you have what it takes to be the best at doing absolutely nothing?

How good are you at doing nothing? That’s the premise behind the Space Out Competition, started by South Korean artist WoopsYang. If you think it’s as simple as blurring your eyesight and tilting back your head, wise up. Look away from this screen right now and try to do nothing. I’ll give you a minute.

Even WoopsYang has no tips for success. “You cannot prepare or practise to do it well. Spacing out is not something that you can actively do. The moment comes when you forget that you are spacing out.” And trust me, the moment comes.

For three years, groups of people have been gathering in busy city centres in South Korea and China to compete in the competition. Here’s how it works: Eager participants from around the world apply to WoopsYang, who selects a group of between fifty and eighty to compete, based on their age, diversity, and intention. On the date of the competition, the group convenes at a central location, removes their phones and other distractions, and proceeds to float off into nothingness. To be successful, one must embrace the feeling and avoid distractions altogether. Eventually, the audience chooses ten finalists, and the judges select the winner.

Competitors from the first International Space Out Competition held in Seoul, South Korea on October 27, 2014. Photo courtesy of WoopsYang Company.

The event is growing in popularity. Since its inception in 2014, it’s been held four times—three times in South Korea, once in Beijing. WoopsYang is planning to hold future competitions in Bucharest, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam, with the hopes of expanding the competition to include thousands. Although participants say it isn’t easy, many reapply after their first attempt. “When I observed the participants who finished the ninety-minute competition, I could see in their faces that they were full of refreshment as if waking from a deep sleep. I was sure that they were the only people in the world who had done nothing for the past ninety minutes,” explains WoopsYang.

The success of Space Out reaffirms the motivation behind what started the project. “Korean society is rather excessive,” says WoopsYang. “Busyness has now become a positive virtue. For that reason, we are eager to do something productive and to get better results than anyone else. As an artist, I also suffered from the pressure that I should achieve something. It made me very tired, and this personal experience triggered me to create Space Out.” The competition acts as a platform for people to collectively reject society’s constant current of activity, and based on turn-out alone, it appears WoopsYang isn’t the only one feeling stressed.

As an artwork, Space Out is more than an amusing stunt. By praising the ability to do nothing and applying the competitive nature of society to this frequently rejected activity, WoopsYang is redefining the value of competition, productivity, and even wealth. The densely populated setting is also no coincidence. “Visual collision can produce the biggest effect on the competition. In the end, participants become performers who themselves deliver the meaning of doing nothing.” WoopsYang says that participants are carefully selected for their diversity of age and profession to “recreate a small edition of the world.”

I’ll bet that when I asked you earlier to put this magazine down and do nothing, you didn’t. You probably thought it was a bit of a gimmick—just something to get this article started. But maybe that proves WoopsYang’s point. It’s hard for us to value time spent being unproductive. Maybe it’s time we started.


News and upcoming event applications are circulated on the Space Out Facebook page