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If you have found your way to this page, welcome. This is the place where we invite you to contribute to our symposium by submitting reflections, analysis, or proposals that respond to our 7 Compass pairings. Take inspiration from the Compass pairings, or the writing and artwork that will be presented on our website every day from June 15 to 19. Details for how to share your original work is outlined below.


We have themed the symposium around 7 word-pairings we are calling Compasses. While not exhaustive and by no means comprehensive, we see them as guides to explore in different directions. They mark places to start and are not constraints on our imaginations or emotions. We hope they may help us find our bearings; glimpse what's ahead.


The Chinese poet Lao Tzu wrote that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And so it is with all challenging tasks. The first steps must be taken. We invite you to take these first steps with us, and with the talented writers and artists whose work you will see unfold over the course of this symposium. 


“My pieces are intended as protective garments that can be used to survive Covid 19 virus.  They reference medical uniforms, the veil which brings to mind divine protection.  During covid 19 the world learned to wear protective masks. The garments are wearable and I am a firm believer in the need to use protective masks to prevent the spread of Covid 19.”  – Melissa Lockwood 

seven compass

The Seven Compass Pairings

What ideas do we develop and apply in order to achieve positive structural transformation for a more just and equitable world?

Crisis & Capacity

  • How does society deal with crises, particularly concurrent crises, without ignoring them, or becoming dulled to their impact and significance?

  • What do the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd amidst an ongoing pandemic reveal about society’s capacity for dealing with colliding crises? 

  • What’s the intersection between human and systems’ capacity to deal with the crises?
    Guiding Details: climate; policing; governance; education; inequality/inequity; economy; food growth and distribution; public health.


Culture & Constructs

  • Which societal mental models need revision and new habits of thought?
    Guiding Details: property ownership, civil rights, is technology the answer? (Cedric Price)


Collapse & (re)Construct 

  • How do we structurally reorganize our human institutions under the pressures of concurrent crises? Redesign or revolution? If institutions are assemblages of relations and networks between people, what does survival mean under these conditions: stay as is, repurpose, adapt, clone themselves…?
    Guiding Details: from parts to wholes; from hierarchical / fragmented / linear institutions/ organizations -> organizations able to deal with complex, interconnected, ambiguous challenges.


Contact & Constraints 

  • What is the human right to square footage? From amphitheaters to asylums, from playgrounds to prisons, humans have built a world to bring people into proximity. When proximity can be deadly, what changes? What does it mean to be human when systems around you are broken or breaking? 
    Guiding Details: When does the short-term need to avoid human touch threaten long-term well-being? What constitutes “acceptable” risk? What makes a life worth living? (no economy, no touch? living in periods of isolation, how do spaces and habitats need redesign going forward?


Commons & Capital

  • How do we manage population and provide equitable distribution of food, natural resources, and basics for all?

  • Is the Green Revolution still relevant? 
    Guiding Details: equality/equity, competition, economy, waste, distribution.


Chaos & Control

  • How could conditions for emergence balance tensions between what was and what could be? Crisis enables emergence. What can be controlled to serve better outcomes? Is the idea of control relevant or obsolete? If control is a fallacy, then how do we proceed?
    Guiding Details: unintended consequences; parts don’t retain their nature in whole


Compasses & Calibrations

  • Maps which offer 1:1 certainty are no longer reliable. What are the gauges and guides for individuals and societies that will enable wholescale improvement? What other new tools will point us to true norths? 
    Guiding Details: beyond measurement, efficiency, optimization

Cosmic Hope.jpg

“It is crisis times like these one, that our fears, dreams, hopes and all the most basic characteristics that make us up, emerge from the psyche in disruptive ways, in a natural reaction of survival. In this sense, the states of crisis implicit in a certain chaos, become compulsory terrain in the need for change, this being an inherent aspect of the nature of what is alive. It is here that the idea of control becomes relevant as long as it is not absolute and there is an understanding that the fortuitous will always be present in processes and results, to different degrees. Understanding control more as part of the methodological side and not as the ultimate purpose.”  – Regina Arruti Zapata

J Wine 2.jpg

From My Quarantine To Yours, With Love

Quarantine arguments

    hang in the air

like slammed doors

feeling the vacated

    void of open sound

creeping into the space

    of shouting workmen,

    and horns,

    and idling engines

That once

choked our children with poison


Just as commerce

in this familial hour




This is no Blitz blackout

the lights of candles burn bright

into the night

the windows of the city

Lit by a new source of aflame


human decency

tender, fraught intuitions

As it could have been?

What are the decisions we have bound ourselves to?

Just as choices were once made by circumstance

how will this Circumstance

    assert itself

imprinted onto collective conscience

How will we touch again

with this codex of mimetic dread



a harder stubbornness

to return to how it was?

Poem by: Silas Gibbins, RISD ID ‘21(?)

Date: March 24th 

Location: Tower Hill Wharf, London 

How to Contribute:


Submit your reflections, analysis, or proposals to us via or send it to us through direct message (DM) on Instagram at @risdcenterforcomplexity.


Work in the medium of your choice. Share something of your own creation, perhaps a diagram, poem, play, essay; send a photo of a painting, model, weaving, or collage, even a short film (2-3 minutes).


Every day, the CfC will choose three submissions to feature on our website and instagram


Terms for Submissions 

To include in your email or Instagram DM:

  • The Compass pairing or other content you are responding to.

  • Your name and any other detail that you would like to share about yourself that we will publish with your contribution.

  • Details you care to share about the medium in which you worked.

  • Any additional contact information you want us to have for future communication.

  • For large files, provide a link to submission (i.e. Dropbox).

  • By submitting, you are providing permission for us to post the contribution in part or whole on our website for the purposes of the symposium. You must submit only your own original work that is not subject to copyright that would preclude us from displaying it on our website.


The Gift

Generous cultures are nearly extinct 

You were young enough to believe 

that they would flourish forever

I swear i saw this with my own eyes

Krum sautéed with crushed chilli peppers, garlic and salt

fried potatoes for aloo dum, mixed with Kashmiri achar

in your aunt and uncles kitchen

Remember how they used to remind us

that the most important things in your life

took place in your absence


Generous cultures have become suffocated from your

toxic jealousy

that began arriving at all of our doorsteps uninvited

My pain and suffering is more important than yours

She gave birth for the first time 

Her mother and father both dead in Kashmir

But she wasn’t alone, her brothers standing around her

A temporary home is a gutted basement

But still they greeted her with balloons, handmade cards, trays of jalebis

But still we began to plant seeds

ripping apart years of relationships once thriving

Poem by: Jagdeep Raina

RISD Alumni (PT MFA 2016).

Date: 2020

Location: Canada 

Compass: Compasses & Calibrations

Crowds, Communities and Cloud Nines

By Olga Karabinech

Compass: Contact and Constraints

“But what does it mean, the plague? It's life, that's all.” The Plague, 1947


The Plague, which Albert Camus wrote in the postwar period, has been selling out around the world and spurring countless think pieces about its insights into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Camus uses a plague in a fictional city in French Algeria as a device illustrating the concept of the absurd: a random and meaningless befalling of misfortune which simply amplifies the awareness of an ever present condition of mortality. This universalist notion is echoed in references to COVID-19 as “the great equalizer.” 

Suffering is not randomly distributed. The Plague’s characters are all European men, and Camus says nothing of the native Algerians comprising nine-tenths of the population. 

Being alive is synonymous with perpetual danger for the colonized and disenfranchised. The vastly disproportionate deaths of people of color, from COVID-19 as well as at the hands of police, underlines that daily reality. 

But the privileged are feeling this unease and fear sometimes for the first time ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a hyper-awareness of the physical body and its parts -- hands, mouths, noses, throats, lungs -- all possibly contaminated with intercellular interlopers. Personal space is extended and quantified with a new, six-foot unit of measure, the edges of which are almost palpable, like a second skin covered in a film of contagion.

Lockdown has ruptured the connective tissue -- the traditions, rituals and gestures -- binding communities together. Every interaction is scrutinized, and our interconnectedness constantly shifts scale, from cellular to global and back again. Zoomed in, the boundaries between and among individuals and communities recalibrate and start to blur. A person seems more like a community, and a crowd more like an individual. 

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