Top image: Sophie Mellor, Urban Wanderer, 2010

Urban Retreat: Curated by Sophie Mellor

Following a successful and interesting artist-curator residency at Art Gene in 2008 we wanted to develop our collaboration with Sophie Mellor. This led to her proposing a series of potential projects which eventually evolved into Urban Retreat.

Urban Retreat: Curated by Sophie Mellor

Lottie Child, Emma Cocker, Karen Di Franco, Sophie Mellor, Laura Oldfield Ford, Clare Thornton (1970 – 2019) 

Following a successful and interesting artist-curator’s residency at Art Gene in 2008 we wanted to develop our collaboration with Sophie Mellor. This led to her proposing a series of potential projects which eventually evolved into Urban Retreat. The project mirrored, explored and further developed Art Gene’s research remit: re-visioning, as it did, the role and engagement of artists and communities in the regeneration of the social, natural and built environment. The project also brought new artists to Art Gene and new members of our community to Design Cafe events; many of whom continue to be regular visitors and participants in our on-going work.

Urban Retreat featured a series of artists commissions, activities and events exploring the edges of urbanism.

Sophie Mellor spent two weeks 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 will 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 were a series of free public events and activities linked to Art Gene’s Design Cafe Programme. Lottie Child ran a Street Training session, investigating how to traverse both industrial and rural Barrow.

Lottie developed Street Training as a method to directly engage people with their surroundings through creative and playful behaviour combining parkour, movement, singing, conversation and games.

Martin Norris from Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney and Foulney Island Nature Reserve led a ‘Nature Walk’ in 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.

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 could borrow books donated by Urban Retreat artists and invited patrons, for the duration of the project. Each of the books will included a specially designed book plate by Karen Di Franco.

Writer Emma Cocker corresponded via post with Sophie Mellor during her urban wander performance, and the resultant new writing formed the basis of Manual for Marginal Places. To order a copy (£6 plus £2 p&p)

Urban Retreat is a Close and Remote production in association with Art Gene

Art Gene’s exhibition Your Future Needs You also featured works by artists engaged in Urban Retreat alongside others collaborating on Art Gene projects during 2010. More about Sophie’s work at Art Gene Your Future Needs You exhibition here.

External Links

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Sophie Mellor



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