The neon sign has been an iconic symbol of Hong Kong from Hollywood blockbusters to Wong Kar–wai movies. In the 1920s these signs were introduced. However, they flourished during the second half of the 20th Century due to the city’s increasing economization. Neon lights were used to advertise that restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, or pawn shops were open. Each sign was made by hand, incorporating both Western neon and local crafts. These neon lights are rarer now. The city’s transformation saw businesses shift from manufacturing to service providers. Old traditional industries. Neon was not an exception. Pascal Greco (Swiss-born artist) wrote “The Neon Book”. Hong Kong Neon ” explores the many neon lights that have illuminated the city’s streets over the years.
Greco took inspiration from Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong-set films “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express” to photograph neon lights using a Polaroid Camera. He captured one vanishing art form after another.
For eight years, Greco spent a month in Hong Kong photographing 170 neon signs. Greco states that about 70% of the neon signs he photographed are gone. Modernization has made neon signs a common occurrence in a densely populated city like Hong Kong. The skyscrapers are replacing old, walk-up buildings with modern ones. Many of the old signs were eventually replaced with more energy-efficient and safer LED lights. Only a few neon lights can be stored. The majority end up in the trash. However, there are safety concerns as well. The majority of neon signs in Hong Kong display traditional Chinese characters. Greco believes that simplified Chinese may have contributed to Hong Kong’s disappearance of its unique heritage. It requires hard work and a minimal amount of financial reward. This art requires skillful physical labor and takes years to master. Many neon light artists in Hong Kong do not have a legacy. Cardin Chan, spokesperson for Tetra Neon Exchange is a non-profit organization that conserves neon lights. “We were able to make neon, which was a foreign invention, and give our spin,” she says. There were approximately ten neon sign artists left in Hong Kong when the boom was happening. They don’t want the industry to suffer as they did in the past. Cardin states that “for the longest time, those people worked so much for Hong Kong to create (the) landscape.” They are worthy to be seen, I believe. They are unsung heroes. Karen Chan is the creator of CeeKayEllo, an art studio in the area, and HTMLKCRAFTS a non-profit organization that supports local artisans and crafts. Since 2019, she has been learning neon sign techniques in the hopes of keeping the art alive. In Hong Kong, the neon lighting industry is predominantly male-dominated. She is therefore the only female neon technician and designer. She has also studied neon light artists all over the world, including the United States, South Korea, and France. However, the 32-year-old insists that mastering the craft takes a lot of work. She stated that “the physical part” is one of her weaknesses. It takes a lot of focus to make neon signs, from glass blowing and glass bending to handling gas. “It takes practice and muscle memory. Even though neon lights have been tangibly taken out, their legacy lives on among Hong Kong’s residents.
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