|Visual artist Woopsyang, center, wearing a "gat," a Korean traditional hat, attends the 2019 Space-out Competition in Jamwon Hangang Park on April 21, 2019. Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government|
Space-out Competition returns after three-year hiatus
By Lee Hae-rin
Seoul's annual Space-out Competition will return to its signature venue, the Han River, next month, after a three-year hiatus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said, Monday, that this year's competition will be held on the Jamsu Bridge on Sept. 4 starting at 3 p.m., while the bridge is blocked to vehicular traffic. When registration for the event opened on Monday, over 2,000 people registered to participate in the event on that day.
This year, a total of 50 teams will participate, each team consisting of a maximum of three people.
The Space-out Competition is a performance art event that actively encourages exhausted city dwellers to do nothing and to free themselves from the stress of everyday life by rewarding the most zoned out.
The event originated from the personal experience of the organizer, a painter who overcame burnout by investing time and energy in doing nothing.
Woopsyang, the event organizer and a visual artist who asked to be addressed only by her pseudonym, said during a recent interview with The Korea Times that even as she was able to find inner peace while spacing out, she discovered that everyone around her was still busy.
"We have always been told that spacing out is a waste of time that gets us nowhere," Woopsyang, said. She decided to "add value to the practice and make it goal-oriented," in the all-too-familiar format of a national competition.
Since 2014, the Space-out Competition has become a yearly event, a genre of urban sport and a contemporary art performance with a small but devoted followership.
The rules are simple. Contestants are invited to sit still and remain spaced out for 90 minutes. Those who check their smartphones, engage in any chitchat, move around or fall asleep are eliminated from the competition.
|Participants in diverse outfits and costumes compete in the 2018 Space-out Competition at a park near the Han River on April 22, 2018. Newsis|
Participants are encouraged to dress in attire that best represents their professional occupation. Thus, the event aims to create a visual juxtaposition of a strangely quiet miniature city where people actively do nothing within the bustling metropolis, the artist said. Students, veterinarians, wedding dress designers, military soldiers and hairstylists have joined the event, to name just a few.
While contestants compete fiercely to "hit mung," as the Korean expression for staring into space goes, the event staff go around to record their pulses at intervals of 15 minutes. The winner who receives the highest artistic score based on audience votes and technical score based on their steady heart rate wins the race.
The winner is given a golden trophy shaped like Rodin's "The Thinker" sculpture, with the hands making the gesture of the national treasure, "The Pensive Bodhisattva," which the artist says are two symbols of helpful practices from the East and the West.
|In this poster for the 2022 Space-out Competition, a person holds a gold-painted trophy shaped in the form of Rodin's "The Thinker" sculpture ― both of them wearing a "gat." Courtesy of Woopsyang|
Hanbok and gat ― Korean traditional attire and a traditional hat made of horsehair and bamboo ― are visual trademarks of the famous meditative event. The trophy and the models in the poster, as well as Woospyang herself, have worn them while attending the event for years.
"There is an old saying in Korea that 'seonbi,' ― learned sages from the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom who wore the hat ― never ran to the bathroom, regardless of urgency," the artist said. "Back then, spacing out was the top luxury that only a few noblemen at the top of the social pyramid, like seonbi, could enjoy. Now it has become the opposite."
Ever since the championship first took place at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall in 2014, the city government has worked with Woopsyang to host the event jointly in riverside parks, where a yearly 70 million people seek much-needed rest from the congested and fast-paced city along the river crossing the heart of the capital.
People of various professions, age groups and nationalities have participated in the event, the artist said. As the event progresses over the years, more and more participants come as families, suggesting growing social acceptance of the seemingly impractical practice of spacing out.
Although so far there has been no registration form in English, the event has seen many participants of foreign nationality residing in Korea as well, the artist said.
|Woospyang, left, and American Lee Radde ― who won the 2021 Space-out Competition in the Seogwipo Forest of Healing on Jeju Island ― talk to the press on May 26, 2021. Courtesy of Woospyang|
The winner of the 2019 competition was an American and the artist said she welcomes diversity among contestants, as "foreigners also represent an important part of today's Korean society." She added that she designed this year's poster to feature a foreign national as the main model for that reason.
This year's competition will take place on Jamsu Bridge while under temporary vehicle control, only allowing pedestrians. The bridge is under Banpo Bridge connecting Yongsan and Seocho districts in Seoul.
Contestants can enjoy the luxury of spacing out while watching the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain. The fountain is illuminated in various colors while spouting water from both sides of the 1,140-meter bridge. It was recognized as the world's longest bridge fountain in the Guinness Book of Records in 2008.
As the meditative event in Seoul has gained domestic success, it has also taken place on the invitation of other local governments such as Jeju Island, and overseas cities including Beijing, Taipei, Rotterdam and Hong Kong.
|Woopsyang unfurls a banner to greet contestants in silence at a Han River park during the Space-out Competition on April 22, 2018. Courtesy of Woopsyang|
Those who wish to participate in the event may register at the event's official website or social media channels before Sunday, Aug. 28. After the 90-minute competition, an hour-long yoga class and music concert will take place.
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, all participants will be required to wear masks at all times and follow quarantine guidelines and social distancing measures.