Lab as the Studio: Remapping the pathways

September 28, 2018

By Mina Zarfsaz


Every Artist gets involved in various processes of making. In creative practices especially in arts it is somewhat necessary to imagine the studio as a lab, where experiments happen. Here, outcomes become irrelevant and what matters more is mapping the pathways and archiving the processes that can later on be combined into more complex work.


This is a necessary (yet sometimes forgotten) part of every innovative and creative endeavor, artistic or not. ElBulli—a restaurant near the town of Roses, Catalonia, Spain—ran by Ferran Adrià, a modernist Spanish chef who revolutionized cooking at its essence is one that particularly comes to mind. ElBulli was described as "the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet"(1). Before Ferran closed his restaurant in 2012, him and his crew would relocate the kitchen to elBullitaller—located 160 kilometers away from El Bulli’s dining room in a touristy, pedestrian street in the heart of Barcelona— for 3 months at the beginning of the season and set up a lab, where they would do extensive scientific and creative research in developing that season’s menu from something extremely absurd such as water. During this research phase, dishes weren't a concern, taste didn't matter, presentation didn't matter. What was important to think in terms of concepts, techniques and processes, for example understanding how water reacts and creates different effects in its molecular level based on various parameters. Taste, and other chef-ly concerns would come at the end when all the possible pathways have been studied, archived, evaluated and the most interesting processes are chosen.

The El Bulli chefs Eugenio de Diego and Oriol Castro with the restaurant's owner and executive chef, Ferran Adrià. Credit Alive Mind Cinema (NY Times)

At the “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity” exhibit at the Drawing Center, several of the chef’s plating diagrams from El Bulli are on view. (T Magazine)

What Ferran initiated in his restaurant is now part of The ElBulli Lab. This sunny loft space in downtown Barcelona is the site of this exploration. Young people sit working intently at computers. There are bookshelves containing tomes on culinary history, Catalan cuisine, and art. There are installation-like tables of objects: plates, spoons, chopsticks. There are white boards everywhere, many containing what resemble elementary-school book reports. On closer inspection, these prove to be treatises on asparagus, trees, and lemons. (2)


Every week as I step in Integral Molecular to meet with our current Artist Resident, Deirdre Murphy, I am reminded of this overlap between lab and studio, literally and figuratively. Integral Molecular has set up a fluorescent microscope solely for Deirdre a few weeks ago where she has been spending majority of her time. Not concerned with the bacteria and the cells (and their origins) Deirdre sits there every Friday for a couple of hours, spreads her palette of colors, brushes, canvases and studies the colors, patterns of growth, and anything that is of a visual concern in appearances (not the disease for example) in what is visible for her through the microscope. The Culminating of all these studies may translate in her exhibition next year, in the forms of installation, and large paintings. But those outcomes heavily depend on these lab set up studies. The remapping of the compositions shall follow as the taste and the plating followed for ElBulli after the research phase.

Deirdre Murphy running experiments under flurescence microscope at Integral Molecular



(1) Carlin, John (11 December 2006). If the world's greatest chef cooked for a living, he'd starve, John Carlin, The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-30.