They’re trying to preserve Hong Kong’s neon lights
Neon signs are a symbol of Hong Kong, from blockbuster Hollywood movies to Wong Kar Wai movies. These signs were first introduced in the 1920s. They flourished in the later 20th century as a result of the city’s economic growth. As a way of advertising their business, neon lights were used by restaurants, nightclubs, and pawn shops as well as mah jong parlors to hang up neon lights. Each sign is unique and incorporates Western neon along with a local craft. They are not mass-produced in factories. Neon lights are now becoming less common. Businesses changed from being manufacturers to becoming service providers as the city transformed. Traditional industries. Neon is not an exception. Pascal Greco, a Swiss-born artist, wrote “The Book of Neon.” Hong Kong Neon ” Explores the neon lights that have been lighting the streets of the city for many years.
Greco was inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong-set films such as “In the Mood for Love”, and “Chungking Express”, and photographed neon lights with a Polaroid camera to capture one vanishing artform through the other.
For eight years, Greco traveled to Hong Kong once a year for one month and photographed 170 neon signs. Greco says that around 70% of the neon signs in his book are no longer valid. Modernization has made neon signs an inevitable part of a dense city like Hong Kong. Modernization is destroying old walk-up buildings and replacing them with skyscrapers. A large number of signs from the past have been replaced by safer, more efficient LED lights. A few neon lights can be stored, but only a few of them have that rare opportunity. Many end up in landfills. But the crackdown on neon lighting may have more to do with safety. Many neon signs in Hong Kong feature traditional Chinese characters. Greco says simplified Chinese is being used in mainland China, which could be contributing to the disappearance of Hong Kong’s unique heritage. It is also hard work that pays little in financial rewards. It takes many years to master this art and it requires skilled physical labor. Many neon lights artists in Hong Kong don’t have anyone to pass on their legacy. Cardin Chan, the spokesperson of Tetra Neon Exchange (a non-profit group dedicated to neon light conservation), says that “We managed to take neon, this foreign invention, and add our flair.” At its peak, there were over 400 neon sign artists in Hong Kong. Now there are just ten. The neon lights industry is dying and the masters of neon lighting don’t want their descendants to have to struggle as they did. Cardin says that these people worked tirelessly for Hong Kong’s creation over the long term. They deserve to be recognized. They are unsung heroes. Karen Chan is the founder of CeeKayEllo and HKCRAFTS. Both organizations foster local artists and crafts. In the hope of keeping this art alive, she has been studying neon sign technology since 2019. She is the only female neon practitioner and designer in Hong Kong’s neon light industry, which is heavily male-dominated. She also learned from other neon light artists in countries such as the United States, South Korea, France, Taiwan, Taiwan, and the United States. The 32-year-old says mastering the art is not an easy task. She said that the physical part was one of her weaknesses. Neon signs are difficult to read and require attention to detail. It’s also about practice and muscle memory. Karen believes it’s well worth the effort because she can keep this precious and ingrained part of Hong Kong’s history alive. Although neon lights are no longer visible, their memories of them live on in Hong Kong’s residents.