Fading of Hong Kong Neon Lights
The archive of Hong Kong visual culture
With strict policies imposed on sign regulations by the Buildings Department since 2010, the neon sign industry in Hong Kong has shrunk from its unprecedented splendour with hundreds of practitioners to only a dozen at present day.
‘Fading of Hong Kong neon lights – The archive of Hong Kong visual culture’ aims to document and recognise the craftsmanship of neon lights and study the visual culture and design that revolves around the craft under the context of Hong Kong. Over 500 photos of existed and existing neon signs from Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Prince Edward and other districts were photo-documented since 2015.
The book takes on a historical, socio-cultural and contextual study of Hong Kong signs, as well as the exploration of the inter-related components of neon signs: its unique visual aesthetics and design, the craftsmanship and their relations to how our consumer culture and the Hong Kong streetscape are constructed.
Funded and supported by the Arts Development Council (ADC) in 2017, the book was published and distributed to the public in the summer of 2018 by Joint Publishing Ltd. The book has drawn a good amount of attention and social responses in media and news coverages from HK01, Oriental Daily, Apple Daily, Ming Pao and The Guardians.
Currently the book is in the process of translation for a forthcoming English edition.
Our goal to preserve Hong Kong neon sign continues:
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Hong Kong has been renowned for its night scenery for many years, and one of the reasons is undoubtedly the neon signs that have lighted up the city in the evening. Brian Kwok, Associate Professor at the School of Design of PolyU, who is particularly interested in the neon signs, will share more about his research project on this subject.
Brian had his training in visual communication design in the United States, after which he worked in various multimedia design firms and advertising agencies. He then pursued further studies and obtained an MA degree in Design from PolyU and an MA degree in Visual Culture Studies and an MPhil degree in Communication from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Brian started his teaching career at PolyU in 2006 and he is now the leader of the BA (Hons) in Communication Design programme and the Information Design Lab.
Neon signs tell the history of Hong Kong
Brian started the research project on Hong Kong neon signs in 2016. One of the team’s critical tasks was to photo-document the neon signs that could still be found in different districts in Hong Kong. While neon light manufacturing is a sunset industry in Hong Kong, the team managed to interview some neon masters and visited the neon light manufactories.
“Surprisingly, we were lucky to discover about 1,000 original neon sign artworks in one of the local neon light manufactories! These artworks were all hand-painted and are still in good condition, and more importantly, they have never been seen by the public,” Brian said.
The owner of the neon light manufactory was very supportive and donated all the artworks to the School of Design for educational and research purposes. Subsequently, these artworks have been documented, categorised and digitised in a neon sign artwork archive.
The fabulous thing about this batch of neon sign artworks lies in their quantity, originality and completeness. These artworks have more than 60 years of history, and are therefore very rare and precious. Each piece of these artworks was drawn by hand. That is to say, the neon artists visualised the clients’ ideas and concepts all by hand, unlike using a computer nowadays.
Brian said, “These artworks are an invaluable reference for studying Hong Kong's design and visual arts history. Besides, these artworks can also give a peek into Hong Kong's social, economic and cultural development in the past. Thus, my attempt is to explore more interesting Hong Kong stories and unique local visual culture from these artworks, exploring and examining the interrelationship between the aesthetics of neon signs and the development of local industries.”