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Work, women, pots and isolation

Isolation | Caroline Cole

Tuesday 14 April 2020

At the moment, I remain quite comfortable with enforced isolation. The bottom has fallen out of my day job and, as there is little I can do about it, I am spending time instead tidying the business, thinking about all the extracurricular stuff I’m involved with, and clearing the decks for future planning. Exciting times for Colander Associates as the world changes but also, it is exciting to have time to think.

Work, women, pots and isolation

I am not a great reader of books. Instead, when I have time on my hands, I make pots. But it seems that lockdown has given me opportunity to do both and, given the subject of ‘isolation’, I have been intrigued to pick up Caroline Criado Perez’s myth-busting book ‘Invisible Women’: a veritable data-fest of information, demonstrating how the needs and interests of women are ignored, even in the so-called equal societies of today. Astonishing really.

Times, of course, are changing, and women are succeeding in many different roles but as Criado Perez so convincingly demonstrates, we live in a male world where almost every choice we make – collectively and individually – unconsciously favours men. Women, it seems, remain isolated on the fringes, when the major decisions are being made: about our history, about our successes and role models, about our bodily needs and, most intriguingly, about our built environment.

Work, women, pots and isolation

Architects out there should at least skim this book – it is slightly repetitive and very full of statistics but each chapter stands well on its own. I’m halfway through it and I’m sure there is more to hear. I have been struck by the lack of thought that is given to the way women use the spaces in which they find themselves, particularly the public realm and transport that is offered by our – primarily male – planners, city-makers and traffic engineers. If nothing else, this book offers food for isolated creative brains, especially those that are looking to develop a more amenable world as we come out of this crisis.

As John Donne so famously said in his solemn, 400-year-old poem against isolationism:

“No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.”

It really should be possible to say the same about women.

Work, women, pots and isolation

Meantime, I confess that most of my efforts are going into making pots; in itself, a pretty isolationist thing to do. Even though I sit with my book-reading husband, I quickly disappear into my own world, allowing my mind to wander sufficiently to focus completely on shapes, geometries, textures, visual effects and colours, without reference to the outside world: a gentle but exclusive melding of the conscious and unconscious minds. The shapes I am creating lend themselves to patterns that move across their surfaces, and my obsession with trompe l’oeil and geometric patterns seems to be providing endless iterations, so time generally passes far more quickly than expected. Weirdly, the colours I am using now are more subdued but then again, everything is slightly weird at the moment.

Having proper time to create – rather than just evenings and weekends – is a luxury that even six weeks ago I really didn’t expect to have, so I’m doing my best to enjoy it. I am realising how much there is to explore and how generous isolation is, in the quality of time that it offers.

The next challenge will be finding a way to carve out this headspace, when the intensity of life ramps up again – which it no doubt will.

Caroline Cole words and photos
The Architecture Club member