RISD's Center for Complexity to Present Three-Day Symposium Exploring Collapse

August 30, 2022

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Center for Complexity (CfC) at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has announced plans for its fourth annual symposium, to be held on the RISD campus in Providence, RI from September 21–23, 2022. This year's symposium will focus on collapse in relation to the dynamic and static forces of systems change, featuring speakers, panel discussions, group inquiry and an exhibition, all designed to advance a collective understanding of the meaning and consequences of collapse. For more information, please visit collapse2022.xyz.

A variety of planned interactions among artists, designers, scholars, inspirational speakers and the public will advance the ambitious goals of the event, which is being held once again in person after two years of COVID-necessitated virtual events. “This forum is not for the transmission of known knowledge, but for the construction of new knowledge,” explains CfC Founding Director Justin Cook. “It is a space for collective inquiry and discovery, entwining diverse areas of expertise, experience and ways of knowing.” The event will highlight the art and creative scholarship of accomplished faculty and staff members at RISD.

“The Center for Complexity is a systems design and research team embedded at RISD," says RISD Interim Provost Anais Missakian. “Their commitment to creative practice as a path toward deeper understanding of complex systems and, ultimately, meaningful change, is exemplary of the way we approach research at RISD. The team has made important contributions in the application of design research to issues like climate change, food production and distribution, denuclearization and the opioid crisis, to name a few.”

That commitment to the value of creative practice inspired the establishment this year of the Art & Inquiry grant, funding made available to RISD faculty and staff members to create work for the symposium, which will be on view in the lobby of 20 Washington Place, as well as online. Including original artwork, essays and short fiction created by 20 RISD faculty and staff members, the exhibition will provide a diverse framing of the theme of collapse.

Artwork in the exhibition includes a short film by Peter Yeadon, professor of Industrial Design, in conversation with Philosopher Artificial Intelligence (AI) about the meaning of the word collapse and AI’s predictions for the future; an assemblage by Lisi Raskin, associate professor of Sculpture, exploring themes of mutual support, touch, tenderness and collapse; a soft sculpture by VF Wolf, night watchman at the RISD Museum; an essay on mental health collapse by Damion Vania, clinician in Counseling and Psychological Services; and two self-regulating machines created by Andrew Hlynsky, adjunct faculty member in Film/Animation/Video, that illustrate the phenomenon of “catastrophic collapse.”  

“This is not a dystopian undertaking,” Cook says of the symposium. “While we may be living at a moment in human and planetary history in which many human-built and natural systems are in a precarious state, we hope to improve our understanding of collapse as a natural and anthropic force, as a mindset that shapes our approaches to collective problem solving that can actually be empowering rather that paralyzing.” 

Michael Lomonaco, chef/partner of Porter House and Grill, will be the main speaker on Wednesday, September 21. Former culinary director of the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center’s North Tower, Lomonaco survived the attacks on 9/11 by a twist of fate. As a New York City restaurateur navigating the catastrophic impact of the COVID pandemic, Lomonaco’s experience provides a unique perspective on adapting, adjusting and responding to crises with creativity and compassion. These experiences have given him, he says, “an acute appreciation for humanity, courage and determination.”

The main speaker on Friday, September 23 is Jack Halberstam, who, among his many accomplishments, is a professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University, author of seven books including The Queer Art of Failure, and lecturer on An Aesthetics of Collapse. His creative capacity to disrupt conventional understandings is certain to inspire fresh perspectives. 

Other collaborators include RISD Assistant Professor of Architecture Jess Myers; astrophysicist, artist, RISD graduate and new RISD faculty member Jack Madden MFA 22 DM; and Judah Armani, head of the Social Impact Challenge Lab at the Royal College of Art and designer-in-residence at Innovation RCA.

Made possible through the generous support of Infosys. 

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD’s mission, through its college and museum, is to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, to discover and transmit knowledge and to make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation. The college’s strategic plan NEXT: RISD 2020–2027 sets an ambitious vision for educating students for the future and bringing creative practices to bear on the creation of just societies, a sustainable planet and new ways of making and knowing. RISD’s immersive model of art and design education, which emphasizes critical making through studio-based learning and robust study in the liberal arts, prepares students to intervene in the critical challenges of our time. Working with exceptional faculty and in extraordinary specialized facilities, 2,500 students from 68 countries engage in 44 full-time bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. RISD’s 31,000 alumni worldwide testify to the impact of this model of education, exemplifying the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society. Founded in 1877, RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) and the RISD Museum help make Providence, RI among the most culturally active and creative cities in the region.