Our year-out students ran a drawing exercise as a Friday evening ‘practical’ – we normally have talks - but it’s great to get the pens out. First we were to draw our own ‘home work setting’, then without constraint, imagine an idealised home-working environment.
In lockdown, as the classic painting - St Jerome in His Study - appears to propose, many of us staged our desks within larger pieces of furniture, with the prospect of a distant view or a more direct connection to nature. I found myself reflecting on the need for a variety of settings in response to task and mood; from the right context for a relaxed conversation to recesses and bays that offer different levels of isolation/stimulation - nothing particularly new here. St Jerome sits on a raised platform with wrap-around desk; precious objects arrayed to inspire him, animals and birds strut around a cavernous church that is open to its surrounding environment, and beyond are green hills and the clean air of an idyllic countryside setting. Despite the technical transformation in how we work since Antonello da Messina pictured St Jerome in 1456, perhaps little has changed in terms of how our workplace environment needs to satisfy both physical, social and spiritual aspects of our humanity. So what else are we learning from lockdown?
It’s a good time to reflect on the shifts of behaviour and perspective that have been caused in reaction to a pandemic for which arguably we had no prior warning. The forced eviction from our workplaces and the temporary decimation of the consumption-end of the oil economy has brought about a mini carbon revolution. In the heart of our cities, we can now enjoy pollution-free air and birdsong, but there is a far greater invisible threat creeping up on us; a fifty year-long pandemic that unchecked could destroy us all. It grows insidiously beyond the five year remits of our electoral systems and beyond, even, entire generations. We have felt so powerless to act against it - our narrow, ever more specialist education clouding our understanding of the sheer breadth of impacts, and our laisse faire market capitalism unable to offer up the mechanisms to take concerted action. If we could take the sort of individual, national, and global action that has been triggered by Covid 19, we might truly combat the relentless progress of climate change and biodiversity loss.
We have our window to show us what this could be like right now.