Milton Lim is a decorated, multi-disciplinary artist based in Vancouver. He is the Artistic Director of a group known as Hong Kong Exile and will be presenting two works at this year’s PuSh Festival: eatingthegame, an experimental keynote presentation about business and art, and Lang(Lang)gauge, an interactive installation and recital that investigates the consequences of mass-scale Chinese piano ownership and worship. I caught up with him this past holiday break to discuss his career and involvement with Hong Kong Exile.
Christine Kim: What about theatre initially made you want to pursue a career in it? How has your passion for cultural politics shaped your career in theatre thus far?
Milton: I didn’t see myself pursuing theatre or being an artist until about five years ago. When I started my post-secondary education at Simon Fraser University, I intended to do a philosophy and psychology double major. After taking a few elective theatre courses, I began to find interesting connections between devised theatre and social psychology, specifically around in/out-group relations and perception. Over time, I started to focus more on theatre and in my final years of my studies, I realized a desire to unpack my relationship to the world as part of the Chinese diaspora.
C: It looks like you are Artist in Residence for Theatre Conspiracy and I was wondering how difficult it is for a emerging artist like yourself to find funding and support from organizations like the one you are working with now?
M: Finding support as a young artist can be difficult, however there are increasing amounts of opportunities for emerging artists, both financially and otherwise. For me, I think it came down to needing a few things to line up: finding a mentor/group that I wanted to work with, whether or not they were interested, and securing any necessary funding. I was very fortunate to have met Tim Carlson (Artistic Producer, Theatre Conspiracy). He has been an incredibly generous mentor and close friend.
C: Can you give our readers a brief look into some of the new projects you are working on currently?
M: I have been a part of a few projects that have been in the works for a little while now. Over the past year, I’ve been working with Theatre Conspiracy on Foreign Radical; part interactive game and part documentary theatre piece, we’re investigating cyber-warfare, security, and Internet censorship. Under the direction of Hong Kong Exile’s choreographer Natalie Tin Yin Gan, I’ll also be developing the full-length of NINEEIGHT. It’s a dance theatre piece exploring the fractures of identity following the handover of Hong Kong, through the lens of 90’s ‘Mo Lei Tau’ cinema. Finally, HKX has been creating 越界/粵界 (transgression/cantosphere), an installation celebrating the Cantonese language, opening on January 22nd at the Centre A Gallery in Chinatown.
C: Can you give our readers an overview of what Hong Kong Exile is and how it started?
M: Hong Kong Exile is a Vancouver-based interdisciplinary arts company comprising of three artists: choreographer/dancer, Natalie Tin Yin Gan; composer/technologist, Remy Siu; and myself. We create works that explore sociopolitical questions in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized. The three of us met as students at Simon Fraser University, worked together on a few projects at the end of 2011, and have been consistently making work ever since.
C: What is the story behind the company name, “Hong Kong Exile”?
M: In 2012, Remy was writing a piece of music composition called, Hong Kong Exile. In our discussions around growing up as second generation Chinese-Canadians, all three of us shared our sentiments of being situated between the cultures and larger ideologies of the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. We discussed our sense of displacement and our inability to be adequately settled in a home — our ‘otherness’ in either context. We decided to take the name Hong Kong Exile to reflect our removal from a ‘motherland’ that we can never return to and our status as members of the Chinese diaspora.
C: Hong Kong Exile is described as being committed to the “artistic exploration of sociocultural politics in an era of globalization.” As the theatre director of HKX, what do you think is the most prominent trend in theatre today that is either helping or hindering it from impacting young people in a meaningful way?
M: As things are now, I think it’s difficult for theatre to impact young people in a meaningful way beyond the enjoyment of spectacle, catharsis, and/or entertainment. On an institutional level, art education in BC is extremely limited; the arts have and continue to be perceived as ‘extracurricular’ and thus, just for fun. The system is failing to introduce and foster meaningful appreciation for arts and culture.On another more optimistic note, there has been some significant movement around diversification in the theatre as of late (gender equity, cultural awareness, LGBTQ, etc). These changes make me optimistic about creating more accessibility for youth and fostering a greater sense of Canada’s many cultural identities.
For more detail on Hong Kong Exile’s eatingthegame presentation at the PuSh Festival, check out the second part of Milton’s interview with keynote speaker Conor Wylie, and what they have to say about their participation in the PuSh Festival this year.