There’s no better visual shorthand for HK’s hive-like urbanism than crowded streets beneath a glowing canopy of signs sprouting from nearly every available surface. The multicolored glare and audible electric sizzle of so many tubes blinking on and off is a deeply encoded childhood memory. My parents like to remind me that, upon moving to the US and driving cross-country through the emptiness of the western deserts, 11-year-old me sniffled that she “could use a little neon.”
Unsurprisingly, I’m very taken with the design and concept of M+‘s new interactive web project about Hong Kong’s neon signs. There are some great features on the site, including a beautifully designed, crowd-sourced map (above) locating signs throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon, an “in memoriam” for prominent signs gone but not forgotten, and a touching short documentary about the remaining sign-makers who fueled the city’s technicolor boom in the ’80s and ’90s.
They’ve also included an interview with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, best known for his work with Wong Kar-Wai, about the particular atmospheric qualities that neon light lends to film. Really, just watching Chunking Express or In the Mood for Love is argument enough about the weird beauty of this form that’s at once aesthetic and tawdry, future and past, and has colored visions of night in the city for generations.