“The world we are living in is driven by the belief in success, in growth, in money. This thinking was leading us into the ecological crisis — and social injustice — we are living in. We wanted to turn that upside down — giving a grant not for the ‘best’ and for ‘doing a project,’ but for doing nothing,” said Friedrich von Borries, a professor of design theory at the university and creator of the scholarship project.
Von Borries told CNN that applicants from all over the world and all walks of life are welcome to present their ideas.
The submission questionnaire asks applicants to think about an activity they do not want to do, how long they don’t want to do it for, why it is important to not do the specific thing in question, and why they are the right person not to do it.
The idea is that refraining from doing something may actually benefit others, who would otherwise be impacted by the negative consequences of our actions.
“We played with the term ‘doing nothing’ but we are meaning, to be more precise, ‘not doing something anymore,'” von Borries said, speaking about the conscious decision to pursue “active inactivity.”
Three cash prize winners will be announced at the opening of the exhibition on November 5, and winners will be required to produce a report about their experience to be featured at the exhibit.
The report is not intended as a tool for accountability, but rather it should offer insights about how the winners fared in trying to refrain from doing something. “I think that doing nothing is not that easy. You can fail. Your surroundings can become aggressive … And we would love to learn from the experience of those who will receive the grant,” said Von Borries.
The call for submissions happens in the context of a pandemic that highlighted the importance of staying home and refraining from some activities for the greater good.
“During Covid, we stopped being busy not only to protect ourselves but to protect others,” Von Borries said. “That is something I find very important and I hope we will be able to transfer this attitude into the post-Covid times,” he added.
It’s not easy to shift our mindset from being so focused on productivity and success to quite the opposite. Von Borries, who says he also struggles with being “obsessed with work,” hopes he too will learn from the applications.
“We all live everyday in contradictions between what we do, what we want to do, and what we know would be better to do. We have to learn to deal with these contradictions, instead of simply denying them,” he said.