The Art of Spacing Out: A Creative Approach to Mental Health Awareness

WoopsYang has elevated the art of doing nothing to a whole new level with her Space-Out Competition.

The term "spacing out" isn't exactly a positive one, especially when applied to someone who's daydreaming in the middle of their workday or a school exam.

But South Korean artist WoopsYang wants to change that, and over the last four years, she's elevated the art of doing nothing to a whole new level with her Space-Out Competition.


Wait. Isn't This Pretty Much Just Like Meditation? I Thought Asians Already Had That Covered!

South Korea, like much of Asia, is a culture of doers. The streets of Seoul are packed with people going here, hurrying there, all while immersed in the "convenient" technology of their smartphones or tablets. WoopsYang, observing all this while reflecting on her own career burnout, became inspired to create a means to draw attention to the need for brain rest, and she, like other visual artists, decided to use contrast to her best advantage.

So, she organised an event in which participants vied for the honour of the highest-achieving underachiever. And she staged it in the middle of Seoul's teeming City Hall.

According to WoopsYang (dear god, we love that name), juxtaposing sedentary, slack-jawed space cases with harried, stressed out soldiers of capitalism is her creative way of expressing her concern for her country's mental well-being.

"Daydreaming gives the prefrontal cortex a break, taking you on a brief journey to your unconscious mind where chaos and creativity reign." — Meg Selig, Psychology Today

She's taken the show on the road, with the understanding that South Korea, while pretty hard-core about getting shit done, isn't the only culture that needs a crash course in... well, not crashing and burning. In addition to annual local events, she's organised Space-Out events in Beijing (2015), Suwon (2016), Rotterdam (2017) and Taipei (2017). Her 2018 International Competition recently wrapped up at the end of March in hectic Hong Kong.


A Campaign to Unplug the Brain

A promotional video for that event featured different scenarios in which people were either texting on their smartphones, working out on a treadmill, or performing household chores. Hands belonging to unseen entities slap contestant number badges on their backs, and the actors immediately slip into catatonia.

The video's a little creepy, but it definitely hits its mark.

Promotional posters include everyday people sitting against a stark, grey background, posed after Rodin's The Thinker statue (which, by the way, is the model for the event's trophy).

Another poster seems to poke fun at the iconic propaganda-style pose: The quarter-view of a person gazing slightly up... and out into space. In this case, a young man in an athletic shirt inspires a new generation of competitive slackers.

We still can't quite figure out what the broad-brimmed hat worn by certain models and on the event's The Thinker logo is all about.


Obey the Rules of Cultural Disobedience

One can't simply walk in, sit down, and space out. Not even in a competition designed for that purpose.

A loose (re) translation of the rules as posted on the Space-Out Competition website states that "players" will get thrown out if:

  • They interact with their phones (or any portable technology)
  • They fall asleep
  • They begin laughing (trust us, this one was worded in a way that made us giggle)
  • They "chitchat" with one another or with observers
  • They "sing a song and dance"
  • Drink a beverage which is not served by operators
  • (Ed. note: We'll just leave this here for you to figure out): "Even situation don't belong to the Space-Out Competition"

We're not trying to poke fun at WoopsYang's efforts. Aside from the "no singing and dancing" policy, and maybe the part about abstaining from naps, we think the Space-Out Competition mission is vital. And we know WoopsYang isn't trying to teach people how to do nothing. She's just letting people know that it's ok to do it (and by "it", we mean... nothing).


The Main Event

Each competition is three hours long in its entirety, including contestant registration, Mung-terigi exercise (we tried to Google it, and we're convinced this is a made up thing, or possibly a mash-up of between Tai Chi and hat fetishisation) the 90-minute actual competition, tallying the results, and the awards ceremony.

Videos of past events show contestants quietly sitting on blue yoga mats, and with their contestant numbers pinned to participants' clothing, passersby might think they're witnessing the first aid station for a fun run, or perhaps an outing for a local hospital stroke ward.

One contestant seems to have gotten away with bringing a small dog, but aside from a few oscillating fans, no creature comforts are allowed other than what officials provide: water, additional manual aeration, and intermittent heart rate monitoring.

The contestants, with their neatly-arranged mats, are surrounded by a red velvet rope to keep curious onlookers (and bustling, mobile-obsessed pedestrians) from harshing their collective mellow.

Some contestants are truly playing up to the theme, adopting the tilted-shouldered, floppy-necked, mouth-breathing posture of freshly-resurrected zombies.

Is this what Siddhartha Gautama—or, for that matter, George Romero—had in mind all those years ago?


Passing Judgment on P*ssing Away Your Time

How do you decide who is the grand champion daydreamer? Is it a thing in which contestants have to fill a drool cup the fastest, or have their eyeballs measured for moisture loss?

According to the contest's website, ten finalists are chosen based on votes from the audience. Among these, the prize goes to the contestant whose heart rate most consistently indicated a peaceful, relaxed state during the competition.

The Champion receives a gold-painted replica of The Thinker, a certificate, and an invitation to participate in future international events.

Given that WoopsYang and her staff weed through thousands of applicants for each event, which she limits to 70 or 80 participants, that invitation is quite a coup.

"I try my best to choose the most diverse pool of people possible during the final stages of the qualifying rounds, in the hopes that it'll allow every group in the city to be represented." —WoopsYang, in an interview with Vice.

She encourages participants to dress as they would for work to establish a connection with the non-participants rushing by. Her "players" are, indeed, underperformers in her representation of modern society.


The Message

A University of London study indicates that the pressures to perform on a professional level can actually reduce our productivity. Multitasking, according to the report, reduces our IQ to that of an eight-year-old child.

Therefore, one who is constantly tweeting while making long-distance calls to world leaders, while at the same time groping the crotches of unwilling ladies... well, you can connect the dots.

Extended focus on single tasks also requires us to give our brains some downtime, according to another study. These breaks should include activities that don't engage one's prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that does all the heavy lifting involved with logic, decision-making, and ethical judgments. For example, to power down one's grey matter, one might:

  • Enjoy a round of golf at an exclusive Florida resort
  • Sign up for a hair sculpting class
  • Have tea with Piers Morgan
  • Vacation in Puerto Rico
  • Enjoy a traditional Russian bath with a friendly head of state

Scientific American cites a still-relevant 2010 study of office workers in the U.K., Australia, U.S., China, and South Africa that reports, "on average. employees spend more than half their workdays receiving and managing information rather than using it to do their jobs."

And these are just studies as they relate to our work responsibilities. How do we take care of our brains—and our sanity, quite frankly—in our personal lives?

According to WoopsYang's philosophy, the answer is obvious. When in doubt... just zone out.

Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.


Anthony Ierardi


Adrian Bortignon


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi


Anthony Ierardi