Urban Retreat

Lottie Child, Emma Cocker, Karen Di Franco, Sophie Mellor, Laura Oldfield Ford, Clare Thornton

Urban Retreat (Close and Remote, 2010) was a series of artists commissions, activities and events reflecting on the use and value of urban/rural landscapes. It took Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as a starting point, using socialised seclusion and public interaction to investigate the local economic and ecological landscape of Barrow-in-Furness.

Barrow’s unusual landscape charts its industry past and economic decline alongside its reclamation by both nature and current regeneration schemes. The commissioned artists examined the urban and rural spaces. Their aim, as artists have always done, was to record our enduring relationship with the land – which they did in a variety of ways with a range of materials themed around the urban and rural.

Sophie Mellor spent a week as an urban wanderer relying on the kindness of strangers and the bounty of the land to house and feed her. Clothed in an especially designed survival jacket by Clare Thornton, she placed herself directly in Barrow’s marginalised landscapes, investing in its use and beauty through her interactions with people and place.

Around this central, durational performance, there was a series of public events and activities. 

Lottie Child ran a Street Training session, investigating how to traverse both industrial and rural Barrow. Lottie has developed Street Training as a method to directly engage people with their surroundings through creative and playful behaviour combining parkour, movement, singing, conversation, games.

Martin Norris of South Walney Nature Reserve led an ‘Urban Nature Walk’ of Barrow’s wastelands, looking at how nature colonises land left fallow by industry.

Laura Oldfield Ford took participants on a drawing ‘drift’ (walk) around Barrow’s sites of regeneration, using drawing to reassess and document how industry, politics and economics have impacted the land and its use.

As well as making the survival jacket for Sophie Mellor’s urban wander, Clare Thornton ran a ‘Survival Bag’ workshop where participants were invited to make and customise a bag to carry the items they need to negotiate their environment.

Barrow-in-Furness Library hosted the Urban Retreat Lending Library, where library users borrowed books donated by Urban Retreat artists and invited patrons, for the duration of the project. Donated books featured an especially designed book plate by Karen Di Franco.

Writer Emma Cocker corresponded via post with Sophie Mellor during her urban wander, and the resultant new writing formed the basis of ‘Manual for Marginal Places’ which was published in Spring 2011.