Design | Isolate Exhibition

26 November 2020 - 27 January 2021

This time of pandemic is surreal, isolating, traumatic, tragic, frustrating, inevitable. Whatever you think it is, it’s something we have not experienced before.  It’s a time for a reset in terms of how we live and design is key.  Designers and creative thinkers are uniquely equipped to imagine new ways of living, working and engaging with others in families, societies and in diverse cultural and geographic environments. 

Design/Isolate is an Australian Design Centre initiative to show how creative thought can help lead the way for change.  Over 60 designers/creative thinkers have captured their thoughts in sketches, diagrams, drawings, text or collage on COVID-19, isolation, what ‘a new normal’ in Australia might look like, how they are affected and how design might contribute to recovery post-pandemic. 

The project began by way of an experiment. At Easter time in the midst of lockdown in Sydney, I thought what if we were to send 100 journals to 100 creative people and ask them to document something of their time during Iso (as of today this is a word!) in an analogue as opposed to digital form – a modest sketchbook fit for purpose. So many took up the challenge and the results are breathtaking.  To read someone’s journal is a privilege. Sometimes done in secret, without permission, or long after a person has gone, this is a rare insight into the very recent thoughts of designers, makers, artists, architects as they have lived alongside all of us through this tumultuous year.

Working from home, home-schooling children, missing loved ones, spending more time together as a family unit, celebrating small wins, relentless zooming and watching as tragedy unfolded here at home and across the globe, these things resonate more or less as part of our shared experience.  COVID-19 was not the only tragedy of 2020 – Black Lives Matter was central to the lives of many and brought to the fore by shocking recent events; and the summer bushfires etched on our landscape and in our minds made climate change the emergency. Personal and collective resilience, respect and care is what we hope will enable us all to emerge changed yet stronger and more mindful than before.  

Nicole Monks says it best in a single Wajarri word in her journal: 

listening, hearing, thinking, remembering

Design Isolate shows us the generosity of spirit in these creative people. It shows us how creatively confident we are in this country and how much our creative community gives so that each of us can lead richer, more fulfilled lives. 

Many thanks to all of the creative practitioners who have participated in this project.  They have contributed something unique, creative and personal to this document of Australian creative lives lived through this unprecedented time. 

Dianne Beevers | Zoe Brand | Deborah Burdett | Lisa Cahill | Elise Cakebread | Maria-Fernanda Cardoso | Tulla Carson | Sebastian Chan | Sacha Coles | Rhys Cooper | Corban & Blair | Daniel-Emma | Anna Davern | Tracey Deep | Bin Dixon-Ward | Paula do Prado | Kate Dunn | Eggpicnic | Alexi Freeman | Honor Freeman | Garbett Design | Maddison Gibbs | Stephen Goddard | Dennis Golding | Mark Gowing | Blake Griffiths | Christian Hall | Benja Harney | David Holm | Michael Hoppe | Pennie Jagiello | Taerim Claire Jeon | Rebecca Jobson | Mark Ian Jones | Pia Larsen | Stefan Lie | Peter Lonergan | Nikita Majajas | Claire McCaughan | Nicole Monks | Damon Moon | Julie Paterson | Fiona Roderick | Natalie Rosin | Tim Ross | Liane Rossler | Niklavs Rubenis | Melissa Silk | Lucy Simpson | Vipoo Srivilasa | Jane Theau | Bic Tieu | Isabelle Aileen Toland | Prue Venables | Zoe Veness | Harriet Watts | Louise Weaver | Liz Williamson | Jason Wing | Helen Wyatt | Melinda Young  

Conceived and curated by Lisa Cahill, the project was produced by Lisa Cahill, Fiona Pulford with assistance from Sephira Luo and the ADC team. Many thanks also to Corban & Blair for their enthusiastic support for the project.

Purchase the companion publication Design Isolate: The Pandemic Through A Creative Lens at Object Shop or online here


Design/Isolate events are part of the Sydney Festival 2021. 

Creativity During Covid Panel Discussion
A panel of designers and curators involved in the Design Isolate exhibition and museum collecting will talk about their experiences during Covid-19.  How has the pandemic affected their practice? Was it a fertile time for creativity? How do they make sense of a new normal? What can we learn from this experience and how can we capture these defining moments?  This discussion will be facilitated by ADC’s Lisa Cahill with journal contributors Deborah Burdett, Stephen Goddard, Melinda Young, Gillian Corban and Craig Middleton from the National Museum of Australia’s Covid collecting project. Come along and share your own stories about you creative Covid experience and hear how our panellists navigated the pandemic.
When: Wednesday 13 January, 6:30pm - 8:00pm
Where: ADC 
Ticketed event, book here 

Creative Journaling Workshop
Make 2021 the year you’ll start a journal! Having a regular practice of keeping a diary or journal is good for mental health and for stimulating our inherent creativity. Join designer and educator Melinda Young in a creative journaling workshop and learn how to make a start on your own creative journal.
When: Thursday 14 January9.30am - 12:30pm and 2:00pm - 5:00pm
Where: ADC
Ticketed eventbook here

Image: Design/Isolate, Journal covers, 2020. Photo: ADC. 

Dianne Beevers

“Day 51. NSW allowed to dine out. And we did our favourite Indian curry house. Still there. And so are we.”

View Dianne's journal here.

Zoe Brand

"With the cafes shut and the half an hour line up just to get into the supermarket, it was strange and jarring feeling to find these were no longer the safe and comforting spaces they were only weeks before. The thought of the coming summer is heavy on my mind."

View Zoe's journal here.

Deborah Burdett


View Deborah's journal here.

Elise Cakebread

“My book is an exploration of pattern, texture and repetition in my daily life. It is a focus on the small details of domestic life from the perspective of textile design.”

View Elise's journal here.

Maria-Fernanda Cardoso

“Working from home, riding bicycles, enjoying and getting to know Australia instead of other countries, universal income for everyone in Australia and in the world, improved health systems and a new way of living with more respect for nature.”  

View Maria-Fernanda's journal here.

Tulla Carson

“Vessels From Within: the imaginative wanderings of a mind stuck inside.”

View Tulla's journal here.

Sebastian Chan

“Without a daily commute, I had expected my music listening to drop, or at least become less diverse. That was not the case.” 

View Sebastian's journal here.

Sacha Coles

“Creative anarchy – embracing the change of COVID-19.”

View Sacha's journal here.

Rhys Cooper

"The coronavirus has been such a major moment in time I wanted to treat the challenge as a chance to focus on the smaller things in life, the things I may have taken for granted prior to the virus. Whether that be focusing on the smaller details in my design work or documenting a moment in my everyday."

View Rhys' journal here.

Corban & Blair

“See the space between us as a gift of life. Let’s go for another walk…this message was written in chalk all around the Balmain foreshore.”

View Corban & Blair's journal here.


"For everyone to be more mindful, whether this is in the way they treat others, themselves or the things around them. Nothing is permanent."

View Daniel-Emma's journal here.

Anna Davern

“The dog is sick. I took him to the vet this morning. He’ll be fine. But a simple thing like this disrupts my day…I have no orders or repairs, no exhibitions to work towards, it’s a perfect time to develop new work and I just feel immobilised!”

View Anna's journal here.

Tracey Deep

“Mother nature is my muse.” 

View Tracey's journal here.

Bin Dixon-Ward

“For stage 3 lockdown…My home is my world and my portal to the universe.”

View Bin's journal here.

Paula do Prado

"Isolation was a harsh reminder that access to multiple screens could and would never replace a warm embrace or feeling the collective energy of friendship in the same room. And for all these things and more, I am grateful."

View Paula's journal here.

Kate Dunn

“The city is not a great place to isolate. I really miss nature. This sprig of gum leaves is from Jervis Bay. The edges are a bit burnt from the January fires.” 

View Kate's journal here.


“This is exactly the right time to think about what comes next. To reflect and decide what we want the world to be like from now on.” 

View Eggpicnic's journal here.

Alexi Freeman

“An analogue clock perches behind me subordinately holding rhythm. The eucalypt across the way sways in arrhythmic dialogue. A cacophony of finely feathered black cockatoo squawks intermingle with the harmonics on a child’s tricycle bell tolling, punctuated by the intermittent screeching of a tram as it migrates the sharpish dogleg out of view.”

View Alexi's journal here.

Honor Freeman

“Yellow is a colour (and its myriad variations) that I’m especially drawn to. I would go as far as to suggest that I am currently in my yellow phase: mustard, lemon, chartreuse, citrine, straw, ochre, gold, daffodil, sunshine, canary, saffron, turmeric, honey, sulphur yellow.” 

View Honor's journal here.

Garbett Design

“Paintings, Rugs, Musings and Sewing. During 2020 (Year of the Rat).”   

View Garbett's journal here.

Maddison Gibbs

“Aboriginal lives matter. You’ll never silence the voice of the voiceless.” 

View Maddison's journal here.

Stephen Goddard

“01 June 2020 COVID-19. Today marked the most significant change to restrictions that we have had since this lockdown began. So I guess this makes this a reflection – a graphic reflection – rather than a diary, but that kind of suits me just fine”

View Stephen's journal here.

Dennis Golding

"As an artist I’m inspired to make, make, think and make! This is definitely a time to be creative and current situations between public health emergencies and civil rights movements allow me to think of ways to share stories of health, recovery, protest and healing."

View Dennis' journal here.

Mark Gowing

"I’m not sure about how everyone feels, but personally I like my new pace. A slower life has made me more focussed and I think my work and processes are perhaps more considered. I definitely rely less on adrenalin and pure instinct, so I hope we all might be able to embrace a more sustainable life rhythm."

View Mark's journal here.

Blake Griffiths

“A bird’s still a bird without its wings. The only way to mirror your universe is to strip it bare to its most essential fragments and then refract it, to weave it back together. We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

View Blake's journal here.

Christian Hall

"I hope the pandemic leaves us with a renewed sense of the social. That one; the social is not just human, and two; that human social life – connection – is a precious thing. As short-lived terrestrial beings it is indeed one of the most precious things we have. Isn’t it?" 

View Christian's journal here.

Benja Harney

"I hope that people will reflect on the slowing down of productivity and allow themselves more contentment from simply ‘being’ rather than feeling the modern pressure to always be ‘doing'."

View Benja's journal here.

David Holm

“I was lucky enough to be isolated at my place on the Hawkesbury River in NSW on Deerubbin Land, so my musings were of the strength, power and resilience of landscape and place to remain a guide for how we live.”

View David's journal here.

Michael Hoppe

“Lockdown latte? A project I have been working on is to use the guts of the stove top espresso machine I designed for Otto and Rehouse in a CNC machined aluminium body. I did a barista course as part of the research for the original project.” 

View Michael's journal here.

Pennie Jagiello

"Allowing and accepting one’s self to slow down can be as challenging if not more so than being told to do it. I think there has been more reflection as individuals, families, and communities and newfound or refined appreciation of all around us."

View Pennie's journal here.

Taerim Claire Jeon

“We are a community of destiny. Deep breath. Peace.” 

View Taerim's journal here.

Rebecca Jobson

"The simplest way of me describing this period of isolation for me is everything it normally is but turned up to eleven – and the much-vaunted moments of ‘personal insight’ have NOT made up for the sheer weight of the cumulative exhaustion of just pushing through each day."

View Rebecca's journal here.

Mark Ian Jones

“My point here is that whilst work and home life have become intertwined, and in many cases quite happily, it has rarely been by DESIGN.”

View Mark's journal here.

Pia Larsen

"‘Isolation’ presents a pontoon in an empty harbour pool as a symbol of our isolation and separation from others under Covid-19. The concept augmented by tearing the image into pieces and filling the spaces between with swirling ink."

View Pia's journal here.

Stefan Lie

“The kids didn’t like going back to school at all.”

View Stefan's journal here.

Peter Lonergan

"I was only working on this one exhibition (in this book) and it helped me focus."

View Peter's journal here.

Nikita Majajas

"I am already looking back with nostalgia at the first few weeks of lockdown when it was just me and the wife and dogs and it seemed like there was nothing to do but bake and zoom, drink cocktails and fantasy internet shop."

View Nikita's journal here.

Claire McCaughan

"The Small Wins. I commissioned an artist to make me a picture. I stayed at home.” 

View Claire's journal here.

Nicole Monks


Translation: ‘listening, hearing, thinking, remembering’ - in Wajarri language. 

View Nicole's journal here.

Damon Moon

"I’ve sent you only the covers of the book because in the end I didn’t want most of what was in there to become public."

View Damon's journal here.

Julie Paterson

“Probably just a cold but who knows.” 

View Julie's journal here.

Fiona Roderick

“Through all of this, at least nature is ok…I walk up King Street, it’s so quiet. Cafes open for take-away, bins overflowing with cups. I notice all the funny little COVID-19 signs in doorways. A friend’s shop is closing, the street and community is changing.”

View Fiona's journal here.

Natalie Rosin

“I left this first page blank until I know what words to say. 2020.” 

View Natalie's journal here.

Tim Ross

“COVID-19 has meant my work has changed to almost completely working and supplying content for others. I am lucky for that, but I miss doing my own thing. That’s why making my new book is incredibly rewarding.” 

View Tim's journal here.

Liane Rossler

“On Thursday March 12 we decided to lockdown, lay low and stay at home. I had scheduled to go to Melbourne Design Week. I had made work for two exhibitions. I made the decision to cancel it all and stay home. We knew change was coming but we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.” 

View Liane's journal here.

Niklavs Rubenis

“Design is…messy, human, survival, expression, tangible, problematic, manipulation, ego, waste, controlling, privilege, community, ethics, critical, change we need.” 

View Niklavs' journal here.

Melissa Silk

“The problem, it seems, was not households stockpiling, but that everyone did it at once, in a panic and in the teeth of a crisis, rather than as a normal part of national preparedness.”

View Melissa's journal here.

Lucy Simpson

"I have used my journal as a means to communicate time place and relationships through connections to mark making and visual storytelling and relationships with Gamilaraay/ Yuwaalaraay country story philosophy and language."

View Lucy's journal here.

Vipoo Srivilasa

“ To do 4 June
1.     make tea
2.     listen to dhamma talk
3.     30 minutes sketch
4.     colouring little people (6-8 pieces)
5.     work on Copyright grant
6.     promote Wellness deity project” 

View Vipoo's journal here.

Jane Theau

“The cover of this journal is one that celebrates the invincibility of nature, the way green pushes through the blackened charcoaled, ash-covered landscape against all odds.” 

View Jane's journal here.

Bic Tieu

"My experience of isolation felt confined as the home transitioned into a blended space. Spaces for work, recreation, study and studio suddenly evolved from the same home environment."

View Bic's journal here.

Isabelle Aileen Toland

“While working together during lockdown Danièle Hromek gave me some wise words that I noted down, and since then, I constantly refer back to: Country holds knowledges, Laws, narratives and lore like an eternal library."

View Isabelle's journal here.

Prue Venables

"As the weeks passed, time became more slippery. What day is it now? Yearning to see people! A feeling of introspection descended."

View Prue's journal here.

Zoe Veness

"Jewellery is an ideal vehicle to honour people and events. And since I create jewellery from paper as part of my practice, it made sense to transform the diary pages into a brooch."

View Zoe's journal here.

Harriet Watts

“How do we hold the things that are precious. This rock, and that leaf. The way the strings are strummed and fill the room.
The words that need to be said. And the gentle ear that catches them.” 

View Harriet's journal here.

Louise Weaver

Louise Weaver's journal represents a flamboyant colour study, featuring a dominating yellow with complementary colours. 

View Louise's journal here.

Liz Williamson

“Our world goes to pieces; we have to rebuild our world. We have to find strength rather than our weakness. Out of the chaos of collapse we can save the lasting; we still have our ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, the absolute of our inner voice – we still know beauty, freedom and happiness…unexplained and unquestioned.” 

View Liz's journal here.

Jason Wing

“Let’s be clear, we said Black Lives Matter. We never said only Black Lives Matter. That was the media. Not us.” 

View Jason's journal here.

Helen Wyatt

"Participation in Community: The Hand Made project is a way of honouring front line health workers. My local street also took up the challenge inspired by my window gallery."

View Helen's journal here.

Melinda Young

“The pandemic for me has been all about the line. The chart. The graph. The pulse, my pulse, your pulse, our pulse”

View Melinda's journal here.

Curatorial Notes: Lisa Cahill

"The project began by way of an experiment. At Easter time in the midst of lockdown in Sydney, I thought what if we were to send 100 journals to 100 creative people and ask them to document something of their time during Iso (as of today this is a word!) in an analogue as opposed to digital form – a modest sketchbook fit for purpose."

View Lisa's journal here.