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Make your own arts research institute

Updated: Nov 20, 2018

It’s a game I play sometimes...

I design my own arts research laboratory, my purpose built complex where I work and create. In my imagination this is a large facility, situated in an idyllic location perhaps next to a mountain or overlooking a lake or the sea. The building is modern, designed to my exacting specifications, and features spaces that are configured to assist with the specifics of my relatively diverse practice. There is an electronics studio for making, tinkering, soldering, manufacturing stuff; a fully equipped workshop for building bigger things; an electronic music studio, complete with Theremins and vintage synths coupled with quality recording equipment; there is a black box performance space, for trying things out and smallish scale sharings; a more neutral gallery space; a video production facility; an office and admin section; a kitchen and eating area; a library; a thinking space with an inspirational view over the mountains or sea; and most importantly, an entirely dark room with a comfortable chair, a small table and a single desk lamp where I can go to sit in the complete dark until I have ideas. You’ll notice that there’s no bar, swimming pool or gym. For exercise I’d cycle round the lake or walk up the mountain. A bar would be nice but I have to avoid drinking too much these days….

I do drawings and make detailed plans of what my idealised institute would look like. Of course, it has a team of specialists working there as well, my highly trained assistants who would include sculpture technicians, electronics technicians, video makers, electronic music specialists, administrators and so on. The main problem with this plan (apart from the grandiosity and egocentricity…) is that it would cost rather a lot of money to create and maintain.

image: Ray Lee

When I first thought of this approach it was while teaching students and it was in relation to what an artist might need to make their work. The ‘Ray Lee Research Institute’ is an idealised example of my version of this. However, most arts students can actually have almost all of these things should they want them. The Art School at my own University, Oxford Brookes, is set within the beautiful arboretum grounds of Headington Hill Hall, an early nineteenth century Italianate mansion. The school has studio spaces for art students, fantastic workshops and facilities run by highly trained technical staff. There are electronic music studios, video production and photographic studios, materials and processes workshops with state of the art machinery, installation spaces and rehearsal rooms. It's also accessible 24 hours a day. The library is full of incredible resource materials and, of course, inspirational academic and technical staff to discuss your ideas with. You don't have to be an art student to create your own set of resources and artists are particularly good at being resourceful, finding ways to get what they need to make and create.

Photo: Ray Lee

What do you need to be an artist researcher?

From my own example I can find a way of having almost all of the individual aspects without the need to actually make my own building. I am typing this in the attic of my rented house looking out over a beautiful valley. I have a studio/workshop that I rent ten minutes away by car which has an electronics desk, musical equipment (including five Theremins...) and a making space. I work closely with 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Centre in Newbury, where I can often make large scale works with the help of the amazing makers there (at a cost of course). I can have access to specialist music studios and video facilities at Oxford Brookes where I work, and so on. The dream of one’s unique and individual institute does not stop you having everything you need by negotiating/organising/arranging access to each specific part of your vision from different sources.

But don’t let that stop you opening your notebook and starting to design your own extravagant, expensive and egocentric research institute dedicated to your own art practice…


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