Robert Lee from the Asian American Arts Centre gives us a sneak peek of what to expect for the organization’s project, Space Time: Presence, presented on Friday May 3 for the IDEAS CITY Festival.

IDEAS CITY, a biennial Festival in New York City from May 1 – May 4, explores the future of cities around the globe with the belief that arts and culture are essential to the vitality of urban centers, making them better places to live, work, and play. This year’s theme is Untapped Capital, with participants focused on resources that are under-recognized or underutilized in our cities. Learn more at

ORGANIZATION: Asian American Arts Centre

NAME: Robert Lee

PROJECT TITLE: Space Time: Presence

Theories of relativity and quantum mechanics have been around for some time and have attained popular exposure, and yet Newtonian structural perceptions prevail. The fourth dimension of space–time has been compared to certain ideas in Buddhism but continues to remain as simple speculation, if not fiction, within popular opinion. Space Time: Presence is a talk on ideas of space–time in an aesthetic context. Four Asian-Pacific Americans artists will speak about their work. Afterwards, a philosopher/scientist, a literary professor, and an art curator will place the artists in the context of the New Physics, considering their art in terms of how we experience and perceive it.  

When and where can we see your project?

When: Friday May 3, 6–8 PM

Where: Christopher Henry Gallery, 127 Elizabeth Street

Why did you want to be a part of IDEAS CITY?

Ever since the New Museum first moved to the Bowery, I considered it a great opportunity to connect the Asian-American community and Chinatown to the cultural life of New York City. Previously, the contemporary arts circles and linguistic communities were isolated from each other. Now, they are passing each other every day and walking the same streets, but they still remain oblivious to each other. To share cultural perspectives, to feel the excitement of new and forgotten ideas, to see how the other half of this city lives—these are all opportunities that have arisen out of the relationship between the New Museum and the Asian American Arts Center, culminating with IDEAS CITY 2013.

How does your project address the theme of Untapped Capital?

Asian American artists are often seen solely in terms of identity issues. Their potential to contribute to larger societal issues is often overlooked. The Untapped Capital of New York City is found within different cultures and the potential they hold. Such cultures remain largely unrecognized for what they can contribute to local and global issues alike, and Space Time: Presence works toward rediscovering the latent potential, specifically within the Asian-American artistic community.

Where do arts and science converge in New York City?

One specific example of the convergence of arts and science—which the panel will touch upon—is Brainwave at the Rubin Museum. There, the dynamic relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and the New Physics continues to be explored and studied. 

Where would we find you outside of work?

Mrs. Kim’s, a Korean restaurant in Greenpoint. It is run by Yeong Gill Kim and his wife. He is one of my favorite people/artists. 

What is your favorite place in Chinatown? Why?

Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyer Street. It has retained the old-world look and flavor of Chinatown, while adapting to the new spirit of the neighborhood.  

What is your favorite place to view Asian-American art in New York City?  

The Asian American Arts Alliance, also known as 4A, hosts a festival called Locating the Sacred, in which hundreds of artists, arts workers, and cultural activists create more than twenty events over twelve days in churches, museums, cultural centers, botanical gardens, and theaters across the city.

What is the change you would most like to see in New York City?

I dream of a city where diverse people and neighborhoods are tapped as a true source of vitality. But in order for this to happen, we as a society must forgo our “colorblind” attitude. Affirming cultural difference instead requires positive color consciousness. We must begin to view and teach cultural differences as assets and opportunities, to be embraced as a new ethos.