Symposium 2022 Call for Proposals | Signs of Collapse

A call for proposals inviting RISD faculty & staff to contribute work to our 2022 Symposium. Deadline June 20, 2022.

Signs of collapse seem to be all around us as we travel neglected city streets, highways and bridges; along the weakened shores of sea and stream. Fears of collapse feel inescapable on all media platforms. From worldwide distribution of food and delicate ecologies, to international agreements, crucial systems show signs of being “on the verge.” The bonds that bind us as nations, citizens, and co-inhabitants of a unique cosmos often seem at risk of collapse.

Collapse has been defined as systemic failure, a breakdown – like obsolescence or extinction, it has been understood to signify an ending on a linear timeline where there is no going back. Collapse can be used as though it is a neutral term, a diagnosis. But is there even such a thing as collapse? Or does this word serve a specific purpose, for specific social or economic groups, with a specific story they are trying to tell about the past, present, and future? It’s all about point of view – it’s a judgment call, as one group’s collapse may signal another group’s emergence.

How can interrogating the idea of collapse allow us to recognize and value non-dominant groups or ideas? How might the notion of collapse be generative, unifying, uplifting, cathartic or poetic? On the contrary, how might collapse escalate growing inequality and insecurity for some more than others? What comes after collapse? Inspired by a desire to more fully understand the role, function, and contours of collapse the Center for Complexity (CfC) has planned its 2022 annual symposium around this theme. We invite the RISD community to explore collapse at a variety of scales, from tiny organisms to interpersonal relationships; from microstructures to megacities; from social contracts and international agreements to cosmic events.

Collapse can be understood not only as systemic failure or breakdown, but also more gently as a giving way, or yielding – allowing someone or something else to go first. Rather than succumb to despair, how might we, through deep consideration and creative practice, understand collapse and respond to it with hope? Among the many questions we invite participants to explore, the following may act as inspiration:

  • Is collapse a natural system, or is it a function of our perception?
  • What are the narratives that have been told about collapse, and how do these narratives help or hinder our ability to envision and build a sustainable and equitable future?
  • How is collapse represented in visual culture and architecture, and how can data that relates to collapse be communicated effectively?
  • How can the idea of collapse be deployed as a method of systems change, or as an object of critical or artistic inquiry?
  • Is collapse amoral?
  • When is “evidence” of collapse sometimes a red herring – distracting us from the fact that the foundations of what was, continue to lie beneath the surface?
  • How can artists and designers imagine or create new futures that forestall, accelerate or resist collapse – or that engage with ideas about collapse in other generative ways?
  • Are there ethical frameworks that can guide the strategic use of collapse to achieve a better future? If so, who creates this framework, who enforces it, and how do we ensure that these frameworks are not shaped by racism, patriarchy, and other ideologies that value some less than others?

Call for Proposals | Due June 20, 2022

CfC seeks 5-6 scholars/authors and 5-6 artists, designers, and/or makers from the RISD faculty and staff to explore collapse from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of media, producing either a 2,500 to 3,000 word essay, an original artwork, a prototype, a set of architectural drawings or plans, a film, or a creative proposition of any kind. These works will be featured on the symposium website, exhibited during the symposium, and will be the inspiration for presentations and discussions at various events to be held at RISD over a few days, beginning September 21, 2022.  The final due date for receipt of the essay or artwork is August 10.  All participants will be awarded an honorarium of $2,000. Artists and designers will also be reimbursed for material or production costs up to $500 where applicable (applicants who need more than $500 should detail their needs in their proposal).

To submit a proposal, send a short CV, a 250-word statement of interest indicating how you would explore themes related to collapse in an essay or through the creation of an original work of art, and an example of prior written/visual/multi-media work as a single PDF document.  Artists/designers should include a materials/production budget if applicable.  Proposals must be received by email by June 20, and jury selections will be announced by June 24. Please send your proposal to the attention of Justin W. Cook at Questions may be directed to Justin at

All awards will be made consistent with RISD policies.  A full agreement with details on IP rights, consistent with RISD policies, will be provided to symposium participants.