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Competition To Do Nothing: Why Is Korea's Space-Out Contest Popular?

The Space-Out Competition, now in its 10th year, is now not merely a contest but a safe space for individuals yearning to escape the continuous demands of daily life.

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Oshi Saxena
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Photo: Xinhua

Image Credit: Xinhua/scmp

In today's fast-paced world, where smartphones dominate our attention and our quest for productivity never seems to cease, the value of taking a moment to do absolutely nothing has become a rarity. However, with all the chaos of modern life, there exists an interesting event that celebrates the art of stillness and silence: Korea's Space-Out Competition.

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Imagine over 100 individuals congregating on yoga mats, unified by a singular goal—to do absolutely nothing. For a duration of 90 minutes, participants immerse themselves in a state of serene inertia, navigating the delicate balance between consciousness and slumber, all while resisting the urge to succumb to the distractions of modernity, be it the temptation of smartphones or the distraction of conversation.

What began as a modest endeavour in the heart of Seoul has since blossomed into a global phenomenon, with Space-out competitions springing up in cities across the world—from Beijing to Rotterdam, Taipei to Tokyo.

The Essence of Space-Out

At the helm of this innovative initiative stands Woopsyand, the visionary artist who conceived the Space-Out Competition as a classic example of the restorative power of idleness.

“People are glued to their smartphones from morning until night, leaving no real downtime. The constant influx of information in our stress-filled, competitive world prompted me to organise this competition as a means for people to find a moment of rest,” she said, as reported by SCMP.

Reflecting on her journey towards burnout a decade prior, Woopsyand recognized the pervasive sense of anxiety plaguing individuals trapped in the continuous cycle of productivity. Thus, she sought to carve out a space where individuals could unshackle themselves from the chains of busyness and simply "space out." 

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The Space-Out Competition, now in its 10th year, is not merely a contest but a safe space for individuals yearning to escape the continuous demands of daily life. Originating in Seoul, South Korea, this event encourages participants to embrace tranquillity by remaining motionless and silent for a duration of 90 minutes. Hosted at the serene Jamsu Bridge in Banpo Hangang Park, the competition offers a reprieve from the incessant buzz of modernity.

At first glance, the rules of the Space-Out Competition may seem straightforward, yet their simplicity belies the impact they wield. Participants are tasked with maintaining complete stillness and silence throughout the entirety of the competition. Any deviation, whether it be checking phones, engaging in conversation, or succumbing to slumber, results in immediate disqualification.

The Science Behind Serenity

While the outward demeanour of participants may exude an aura of serenity, beneath the surface lies a fascinating interplay of physiological responses. Every 15 minutes, participants' heart rates are meticulously monitored, serving as a barometer of their internal state. A stable or declining heart rate garners commendation, reflecting a mastery of relaxation techniques. Concurrently, the visual appeal of participants' stillness is evaluated by the discerning eyes of the audience, adding to the artistic interpretation of the competition.

Participants, hailing from diverse backgrounds and professions, don uniforms reflective of their daily lives, from data linguists to firefighters, each with their unique journey towards inner peace. As the competition commences with the sound of a whistle, participants surrender themselves to the meditative embrace of stillness, their hearts beating in unison with the rhythm of the river flowing beneath them.

The Global Vision of Space-Out

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For many participants, the Space-Out Competition represents more than just a temporary respite from the chaos of modernity—it is a journey of self-discovery and introspection. As they immerse themselves in the silent depths of their consciousness, participants confront the inner conflict that often goes unnoticed amid the clamour of daily life. With each passing minute, the boundaries between self and surroundings begin to blur, revealing a sense of interconnectedness and serenity.

While rooted in the bustling streets of Seoul, the Space-Out Competition has gone beyond geographical boundaries, capturing the hearts and minds of individuals around the world. From Seoul to Hong Kong, from New York to Tokyo, the universal appeal of stillness knows no bounds. 

Former Korean national team short-track speed skater Kwak Yoon-gy and Tsuki, a member of the popular K-pop girl group Billie, were among the notable participants in the Space-Out Competition. Kwak teamed up with fellow short-track athletes Park Jong-hyun and Seo Bum-seok, ultimately securing third place in the event.

Reflecting on his experience, Kwak shared with SCMP, “After competing at the Olympics five times and engaging in competitive sports, I sought nothing more than rest. This event offered a chance for complete relaxation.” His sentiments echo the voices of many participants who view the competition as a rare opportunity to unwind amidst the pressures of their respective careers.

For Kwak, the final moments of the competition were imbued with a sense of anticipation reminiscent of his days on the ice. “A ringing bell signifies the beginning or the final lap in short track, so my heart was pounding at the very last moment when the bell rang to notify the end of the competition,” he recounted.

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Kwon So-ah (third from left) won the Space-Out Competition at Banpo Han River in Seoul. The winner was selected based on the participants’ heart rate and an audience vote. Photo: Xinhua/scmp

In addition to Kwak, Kim Hyun-ji, a hospital worker from Pohang, North Gyeongsang province, clinched second place, while freelance announcer Kwon So-ah emerged victorious, claiming the coveted first place spot. Their achievements serve as an example of the diverse range of participants and the universal appeal of the Space-Out Competition.

South Korea Korea's Space-Out Competition Art of Doing Nothing
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