Esmond Lee, Artist/Architect – Scarborough

As a second-generation Chinese Canadian, Esmond Lee 李春錦 explores long-term and intergenerational experiences of migration. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto and draws from his background in architecture to examine identity, belonging, and nuanced cultural changes in the suburbs. He is proud to create socially engaged and hyperlocal work that strengthens his community. He recently participated in Ontario Heritage Trust’s Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence program and his upcoming projects include a Nuit Blanche Toronto installation on October 5 and a Rendezvous with Madness exhibition later this month.

  1. Ambient drum and bass

Omni Trio, The Haunted Science, 1996

I discovered the sounds of Rob Haigh during high school. Under the name Omni Trio he released music with a unique mix of fast breakbeats, dreamlike synths, diva vocals, and jazzy instrumentals. His work introduced me to a whole genre of mid-nineties drum and bass that was simultaneously stimulating and calming. I am intrigued by this beautiful dichotomy of hyperdrive beats and slow atmospheric moods that take the listener on a journey of contemplation and reflection. It’s the musical equivalent of riding my motorcycle at night through a sleepy metropolis.

  1. Collecting

Poljot Strela 3017, personal collection, 1970s USSR

I enjoy collecting old objects that are both artistic and technical. My collecting is more about the journey of learning and sourcing than about ownership. I’ve collected eighties Japanese sport bikes (with four motorcycles in my possession at one point) to seventies disco funk records. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with vintage mechanical wristwatches from the Soviet era. What intrigues me is how these objects embody a particular social, industrial, and political moment in history. I feel enriched by the research and knowledge gained from purchasing and curating my collection. (There are a lot of fakes and “Frankenstein” watches made of various parts being sold.) Horology has given me a humbling perspective by reminding me of the ingenuity required to measure the passing of time – something which no one escapes.

  1. Video games

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, in-game mini map, 1991

Pixel graphics were the foundation of my childhood. They expanded my imagination and taught me lessons through vibrant worlds and characters. I learned determination and to always move forward despite difficulties and failures (Game Over. Continue?). Nowadays, I appreciate video games as an artform that combines both the storytelling and cinematography of film with the spatial design and interactivity of architecture. Today’s video game industry is ripe with inspiring independent game developers with unique stories to tell. Like many people with books, I have acquired video games faster than I can play them.

  1. Humour

Futurama, Bender’s Big Score, 2007

I like making jokes and I love to laugh. This sometimes happens at serious times and people who don’t know me often associate it with immaturity. I use humour to bring joy to those around me and to also reinforce my own optimism during turmoil. I watch a lot of movies but few TV shows except for comedies like Brooklyn 99 or cartoons like Futurama because they are entertaining and insightful. I enjoy satire like the Beaverton, the Onion, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah for their sharp wits in revealing the absurdities in today’s society. I believe satire and art are both important tools to counterbalance institutional and political powers.

  1. Comfort food

Esmond Lee, Conversations (Dad), 2018

I love eating and exploring foods in general, but what I can’t do without is homestyle Asian food. Food is an expression of my parents’ love and dedication in our otherwise dysfunctional relationship. Warm, nourishing liquids like congee and gamjatang are the balm that soothes my soul. Food is what I’ll remember of my parents and the connection I have with my Chinese cultural roots. Thoughtful food makes me happy.