neon3

neon3

A city long recognized by a certain ambient, romantic glow, as captured by filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai in “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love,” may be gradually losing that special light, sign by sign, as the use of neon is phased out.

The New York Times reports that, since the 90s, the production and use of neon signs has gone down dramatically in Hong Kong. City regulations surrounding the operation of neon signs have tightened, and new signs use LED, which is brighter and cheaper than neon. Even Hong Kong’s existing neon signs are in danger, with hundreds of signs removed by the city every year for safety or structural reasons.

Image: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
Image: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

There are still craftsmen, like 75-year-old Lau Wan, who continue making neon signs as they have for so many decades before, but with business drying up, there may not be a new generation to carry the torch. Mr. Wan has been hand-crafting neon signs since 1957. His colleague is 47, which makes him the second-youngest neon sign maker in the city, out of about a remaining dozen. There are no new apprentices to train.

M+ Neon Map
M+ Neon Map

The M+ museum is working to preserve this aspect of Hong Kong’s visual culture, collecting images of the city’s neon signs online, mapping out the location of neon in the city and even rescuing the actual signs themselves when they are retired from use. With no building of its own currently, M+ hopes to display the collection when its building is finished in 2019.

[Via NY Times]

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