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The disappearing neon lights: how artists around the world can save neon culture

Time:2020-10-02 FONT:bigMinmin

  The disappearing neon lights: how artists around the world can save neon culture
Neon lights have caused a very big visual impact all over the world. Neon lights have even become landmarks in many places. In Hong Kong movies and Western science fiction movies, neon lights are very important visual elements. However, many neon lights have now been removed. This phenomenon has led many artists to use various methods to save this art.

No one can teach a neon light master,

The industry is in a crisis of decline


Recently, many Hong Kong neon light makers expressed concern that the art of neon light will gradually be lost. In the past, the characteristic neon signs on the streets of Hong Kong were gradually replaced by LED lights. Master Hu Zhikai is one of the only neon masters in Hong Kong who has been making neon signs for more than 30 years.


In an interview with Xinhuanet, Master Hu Zhikai said that he started learning to make neon lights at the age of 17. Now he moved his original studio to the remote Kwai Chung Industrial Building, which covers an area of only 30 square meters, which is a bit crowded for making neon lights. Hu Zhikai only received a few orders this month. Liu Wen, who joined the industry in 1957, was also a Hong Kong neon sign maker and a colleague of Hu Zhikai. He said he was worried that this craft would be lost.

 Neon master Hu Zhikai, the second youngest neon sign master in Hong Kong, but among the ten or so neon masters remaining, none of them can teach. "Like all industries, if the business is booming, there will be fresh blood," Hu Zhikai said. "If no one joins the industry, then there is no business."

 Neon signs around the world are frequently removed

In 1898, Sir William Ramsay, a famous Scottish chemist, discovered a gas that was resistant to liquefaction, which turned bright red when it was energized. He named this gas "Neon". In my country, my country's first neon light advertisement appeared on the windows of the Evans Library on Nanjing East Road, Shanghai in 1926. In 1927, my country's first neon light was made by Shanghai Far East Chemical Manufacturing Factory and used in Shanghai Central Hotel. In the 1930s, my country's neon lights gradually developed. By 1949, there were about 30 neon light factories nationwide. But now, neon lights are gradually withdrawing from people's vision.

The billboard made of neon lights is a unique cultural landscape of Hong Kong. The overlapping neon lights announce the prosperity and excitement of Hong Kong. Looking at these brightly colored neon lights, tourists who come to Hong Kong for sightseeing for the first time can appreciate how bright the night in the metropolis is. For many Hong Kong people, the neon sign is not only a sign for business, it also contains Hong Kong’s daily consumption and film and television culture. In "Chongqing Forest" and "Fallen Angels" directed by Wang Jiawei, neon lights play an important role in the development of the plot and the shaping of the character's psychology.

The giant neon cow hung on a steak restaurant in Hong Kong's western district has become a landmark. This restaurant is called Sammy Restaurant. The craftsman who made the neon sign thought that the cow had longer legs and looked good, so the sign became very unique. The Angus cow in the sign became the only cow in the world with four long legs and the color was blue and white. However, in 2011, the Hong Kong Buildings Department considered this signboard unsafe and wanted to remove it. In August 2015, it was demolished. Since the 1990s, neon lights began to decline in Hong Kong. The masters who made neon signs said that Hong Kong’s architectural planning has become more and more strict. Now new billboards are made of LED lights, which do not have the strong warmth of neon lights. , But it is cheaper, easier to repair, and longer service life.

Hong Kong’s flashing neon signs are now mostly replaced by LED lights. Image source: Medium

This gleaming cow is nearly 10 feet long and 8 feet high. It hangs on the street. Tourists who come here can easily find this restaurant, but the giant sign has been removed. Image source: Vice

In previous Shanghai, neon lights were also a very famous landscape. There was a very famous Zhuzhi poem in Shanghai that spread widely: "The fire tree and the silver flower are brilliant, and there are many lights in the Western Business Games. The electric halo is the signature word, and the stars are everywhere." This poem depicts the night view of Shanghai, with neon lights. The dazzling brilliance makes the night in Shanghai even more lively. Now you can see some historically significant neon lights in Shanghai, but such signs are rare. A photographer named Victor Chiang admires the Shanghai neon night scene and took many unique night Shanghai photos. Many of the photos can see the old streets full of neon lights. But we can see less and less "original" neon lights.

In the West, the grandeur of neon lights is gone forever. Vancouver, Canada was once known as the "Neon City". In 1950, all kinds of advertisements used neon lights for publicity, and the decorations outside the church also used neon lights. At that time, Vancouver's production of strip neon lights was the largest in the world. On average, every 18 people and every 12 factories had a neon sign, and the world's largest neon sign was also here. But with the advancement of commercial technology, neon lights have not escaped the trend of recession after all.

 The unique artistic value of neon lights
The first appearance of neon lights was at the Paris Motor Show in 1910. The lights that decorated the exterior of the building exudes a different color than before. The attention of all the guests present was attracted by the novel lights. Neon lights cannot be used indoors. The best use is to use them in commercial areas and street signs. Neon lights were first used in barber shops, and then they spread to all corners of the city. The urban temperament of Paris makes it a natural match with neon lights. After a while, neon lights came to the United States. At the New York World Trade Fair in 1939, neon lights decorated many signs, and many companies were willing to use neon lights to promote their products.

In addition to the commercial brilliance of neon lights, neon lights have also actively participated in the "political propaganda" of the former Eastern European countries. The Soviet Union implemented the "neonization" of Eastern European capitals in the 1960s, in an attempt to compete with Western countries. In Warsaw, neon lights decorate the outside of many public buildings. Therefore, when Eastern European citizens go out and look around the outside world, they will see very interesting scenes: not only can they see old-fashioned political slogans, but also many political propaganda posters surrounded by neon lights.

 Neon is not just a decoration, it also has a high artistic value. Neon lights have become the material of many science fiction novels and have greatly promoted the development of cyberpunk art. It has become the iconic background of sci-fi cyberpunk movies, because the brilliant colors of neon lights can simultaneously express a variety of strong contrasts: the opposition between prosperity and decadence, the interlacing of the future and reality, the contrast between wealth and poverty, which makes people Produce a feeling of interlaced time and space.

Cyberpunk is a branch of science fiction that tends to portray "the combination of high-tech and low-end life". Cyberpunk authors try to draw elements from detective novels, film noir, and postmodernism, and portray the hidden side of the digital society in the last two decades of the 20th century. The dystopian world of cyberpunk is considered to be the opposite of the utopian future envisioned by most people in the mid-20th century. It is precisely because of the style of cyberpunk that the film adapted also likes the feeling of interlacing light and shadow, and neon lights are an element they often use.

 Neon lights also greatly promoted the development of Pop Art in the 20th century. Although Pop Art has become history, its influence on the American art world is enormous. Pop art is a booster for the development of modern American culture. It is precisely because of the development of Pop Art that various anti-art movements that shocked American society in the 1960s and 1970s continued to emerge. Promoted by the wave of American consumerism, Pop artists are not only influenced by the standardized advertisements on TV or magazines, but also by the neon lights that exude a misty atmosphere at night. These artists have greatly integrated the bright and colorful elements of neon art in their works.

American sculptor Valda Chryssa (Born in 1933) is a pop artist who is good at creating tube sculptures. The work uses red, orange, green, and blue neon tubes to form a "8"-shaped arrangement composition to produce a neon light effect. This kind of pop art work of commercial advertising nature is constructed with the help of light and neon, coupled with a timing disconnector, to create the effect of neon light, which attracts people with novel, delicate and ingenious artistic features.
The artist saves this art in various ways

Although neon lights have been replaced by more and more LED energy-saving lamps, and it is becoming harder to see neon signs on the streets, more and more people are beginning to miss such a culture, and various regions and artists have begun to use various Way to save such a visual culture.

 Many countries and regions have opened neon museums to preserve these neon signs. "Neon Art Museum" in California, USA

In, there is a collection of various neon signs. When you walk in, you will see all kinds of neon signs from various locations in the museum. The museum has a collection of neon signs rescued from old, broken, and discarded neon signs. Most of the sources of many neon lights turned out to be garbage dumps. The opening of this museum has set off a wave of nostalgia in the United States. These old neon signs show the light that once shone in this city in the last century. In Hong Kong, a large number of artists and curators are rescuing such art, because neon lights also played an important role in the identity of Hong Kong people. The M+ Museum is a museum that specializes in collecting neon signs in Hong Kong. This museum specializes in collecting photos of Hong Kong's neon signs online, as well as some demolished neon signs. The demolition of the neon cow at Sammy Restaurant was once regrettable, but it is now also in the M+ Museum.
From February 24 to May 10, 2019, an art exhibition called "City Street Signboard" is being held near Oil Street, North Point, Hong Kong Island. The exhibitors believe that in the history of Hong Kong, the neon signs on the streets have proliferated from generation to generation, shaping the city's appearance. The founders and architects Ken and Kevin hope to use the lighting installation of "City Street·Signboard" to show the various characteristics of neon signs, so as to raise the public's awareness of the artistic value of neon signs.

In order to save the neon light culture, many artists have taken another approach. In 2014, Sas Simon and Lena Imamura jointly founded NameGlo, a company that makes custom neon lights, mainly applying neon lights to interior design. NameGlo's positioning is to turn neon lights into a meaningful artwork rather than just a home decoration. Its unique point is that it makes the process of making neon signs transparent and allows customers to make neon lights with their own artistic style. "Neon art is still of great significance to modern art, and we hope that through our company's services, the distance between neon lights and customers can be shortened," said Lena Imamura. Neon art is by no means an outdated art. Someone set up a neonwyorkcity (New York City neon light) account on ins. In many people's minds, neon lights are not only a symbol of nightlife and economic prosperity, but also a unique art.

 The Neon Art Museum is an institution that encourages learning and curiosity by preserving, collecting and interpreting neon art. The first art museum dedicated to the integration of neon lighting, dedicated to displaying electronic media art, including dynamic art and historic neon signs. It is located in downtown Los Angeles. It reopened in Glendale, California in 2016. Image source: tripadvisor

The previous album "The Magic Whip" of the British rock group Blur used neon elements to express the "unfamiliar feeling of being born unrenewable".

  There are also domestic artists actively responding to this cultural revival. Shanghai is also actively preparing to build a neon museum, which will be built in a creative park in Shanghai, covering an area of about 600 square meters, to fully demonstrate the development of neon art and the level of technological development. In the impression of many people, Shanghai is closely connected with its unique night scenes, and those bright and dazzling nights are combined with unforgettable neon lights. More and more people regret the disappearance of neon lights, but through the continuous efforts of artists, this art must be continued.

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