Retreat is a “lexicon,” or inventory of language, to describe the action of withdrawal from civic life. By creating a spatial approach to the language of “escape,” Malkit Shoshan (FAST), Ethel Baraona (dpr-barcelona), and Marina Otero (Studio-X, GSAPP) attempt to widen the definitions of familiar terms such as safety, surveillance, and self-reliance.
The lexicon draws attention to current global events, such as the militarization of public space and the impact of mass surveillance on daily life, specifically the emotional and social impact of the presence of unknown and potentially life-threatening elements. Citing the testimony of a woman living in an area under constant threat of predator drones attacks in Pakistan, the project describes a “step-by-step a process of retreat from the civic realm”: a retreat from daily activities and social and economical gatherings, including market shopping, festivities and ceremonies or attending schools, and eventually leading to a retreat from her own home.
The curatorial and editorial approach for the lexicon is to investigate the idea of retreat, its strategies and imaginaries, through others’ words as it informs contemporary spatial paradigms. A wide variety of source types (from blogs to Wikipedia to academic texts) and media (photographs, films, books, objects) and forms of literary genres are mobilized to create a portrait of retreat that describes not only militarized zones but dreams and anxieties of individuals across the globe, helping us better understand how we might negotiate our personal rights and freedoms within civic society at large.
The Retreat vocabulary, therefore, collects words expressive of approaches from numerous points of view, drawing on Western popular culture with terms like “normcore,” according to which individuals self-consciously retreat from progressive and intellectual positions to emulate suburban norms, and literary narratives of “self-reliance” such as Henry David Thoreau’s text titled such, as well as scientific research into protection, such as methods for the containment of unseen waves and particles. It assembles stories and experiences of people who have attempted to leave the civic realm and to live off the grid, from hippies and hermits to soldiers and civilians.
As a manifesto in the biennial, the Retreat lexicon presents a position on progress and redressing global imbalances, asking: What alternatives for individual agency exist when people’s basic needs are not being met? What might retreat mean in peace, and in war?