Inspirer Talk – Sophie Lee

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

As we are in the midst of Unit X, Sophie Lee delivered a lecture on the evolution of her collaborative work and gave students advice on professional practice for the future. Sophie works with the medium of photography and film, and her work responds to people and context.

Sophie is a Manchester Met alumnus, and in her final year she produced a photographic series entitled ‘Plain Jane’. For a period of three months, Sophie inhabited an empty warehouse in order to focus on developing the title character, something she picked up from a film module she undertook as part of her undergraduate degree. It was an incredibly private, yet well received piece.

After graduating, Sophie struggled to maintain her full time teaching position and making art as and when she liked. Instead, she sought solace in taking up artist residencies when she could. Apart from providing space away from work, it provided the opportunity to be part of a community of artists and to network, similar to her time at University.

One of Sophie’s most productive Artist residencies was at Sim Artists in Iceland. She felt she developed from a ‘bedroom artist’ to working collaboratively, sharing space and gaining feedback for her work. Her proposal was based upon the Icelandic curriculum on how they teach art. In Iceland, the curriculum encourages a process led approach to art as opposed to a focus on the end product. The mistakes that are made along the way are valued. As a response to this, Sophie created a photo series documenting the mistakes that students made in a ceramics class.


 “It was a really uncomfortable shift to really open up and work with other people, but I wouldn’t have been able to see a way of making more ambitious work without involving people in that process.”

Sophie went full-time last year and so far encountered two funded opportunities. These included:

  • Culture Action Llandudno: The brief required artists to run a free art school that local and national people could attend. Sophie found it easy to convey her passion for the project from her experience from working in schools and the research she conducted whilst she was in Iceland; her research was about modes of learning. Sophie conducted a workshop, contributed to the evaluation of the project, and commissioned a new film called ‘From not known, to knowing’, which drew comparisons to the journey of the creative learning process
  • Outside XChanges: This project brought together artists with learning disabilities and emerging artists. She collaborated with several artists to conduct live interviews and performative pieces, which then accumulated in to a film piece. Sophie reflected that the fee wasn’t proportionate, but the opportunity provided a space in Castlefield gallery and the opportunity to work collaboratively. The work she produced was critically acclaimed and gave her a lot of exposure. Check out the projects at:

Based on Sophie’s experience with Outsider Xchanges, she offered her best advice for being strategic before investing time on an opportunity:

  • Look at the organisation offering the opportunity – who are their partners? Their audience? Who are you going to be building a relationship with?
  • Look at Artists who they have worked with previously – what do their CVs look like? Are they still active or creating interesting things? This will help you to decide if you are pitching yourself in the right place.
  • What are they offering? A fee? Or, something in kind- exposure, networking, gallery space or new skills.

And on making an application, Sophie advised:

  • Be honest with yourself: does it fit in with your interests? If you’re truly passionate about the subject, it will be conveyed across your application.
  • Refer to projects you are working on, or have worked on to show that you’re active. It will demonstrate how their project fits in with what you’re doing.
  • What is the legacy of the project? How is the project going to expand your practice?
  • Keep an up-to-date portfolio; and start documenting the work you’re doing at University now!

Her current live project ‘Make Place’ is a research and development project. ‘Make Place’ was inspired by a story Sophie heard in 2015, about an Icelandic man who had been building wooden houses on an isolated island to prevent sale of the island. The houses are painted blue and yellow, and are named after each of his siblings as a tribute. Sophie was drawn to the story, because the concept that an Individual is so far from the reach of society yet seeks organisation by creating their own infrastructure appealed to her abstractly. It had notions of home and identity.  Following a visit to the site, Sophie played around with the ideas in her studio, which resulted in conversations with people who had similar interests and interpretations. This has formed a programme of public talks, as part of her exhibition. She has also commissioned a new fictional audio-visual piece which she feels is quite ambitious, in addition to her other pieces.

In the spirit of Unit X, Sophie gave these final words of wisdom:

“I’d encourage you to embrace the wealth of different perspectives from different creative courses, and the interesting students and staff all around you. Tap into that resource, you won’t regret it.”

Keep up to date with Sophie at: @SophieMeganLee

Sophie’s ‘Make Place’ gallery installation begins on 31st March until the 9th April, ArtWork Atelier:



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