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How Neon Artist Chankalun Shapes Mild

How Neon Artist Chankalun Shapes Mild

Neon artist Chankalun dissects the historical roots of the glass neon practice and recalls her own journey as a female light bender.

Have you ever wondered about the hidden world of traditional glass neon? Not the LED variety with RGB chips and light diodes, but glass neon – the luminescent medium that’s adorned cities worldwide, yet still harbours a mystique that extends beyond its glow. Unlike LEDs, traditional glass neon traces its origins to the innovative mind of Georges Claude in France in 1910 and has captivated imaginations for more than a century.

But the question remains: why has neon remained cloaked in secrecy for so long?

The historical context of glassmaking may provide insight into the guarded nature of the neon craft. For centuries, chemists and glassmakers meticulously refined the recipes and techniques for producing the translucent and durable glass that we see and use nowadays. The legacy of such craftsmanship is exemplified by Venetian glass, which found its zenith in the 13th century on the island of Murano. There, a closed community
of glassmakers flourished under strict governmental regulations, safeguarding their craft and knowledge from external influences, and risking the punishment of death for transferring glassmaking knowledge to outsiders.


Parallels may be drawn between Murano glassmakers and neon craftsmen. Despite technological advancements, the neon industry remains rooted in tradition, adhering to standards established more than a century ago. You may wonder: why does neon still adhere to rules laid down in the Renaissance era? The drawings of Da Vinci’s time have influenced European ISO standards and continue to guide neon technical drawing designs today.

Yet amid the secrecy, a journey of discovery unfolds. Through The Neon Girl project, I embarked on a global quest to unravel the mysteries of neon. From hidden workshops to open-minded mentors, I unearthed the secrets of this elusive craft, one lesson at a time. I had the privilege of learning from esteemed neon benders and artists from around the globe, each of whom imparted invaluable knowledge and insights.

In Every Body Is A Beach Body, commissioned by the Karen Leung Foundation for its ExtraOrdinary Exhibition in 2020, I challenged conventional beauty standards, and promoted body positivity and self-love. By immortalising dear friends in neon, I redefined traditional glass-blowing techniques to shape neon glass walls into body silhouettes. Accompanied by a mirror, the installation invites viewers to embrace their bodies as they are, basking in the glow of acceptance.

In Light as Air, an outdoor sculptural installation commissioned by La Prairie for Art Basel Hong Kong last year, I shed light on the importance of air quality. Through a symphony of upcycled broken neon and interactive design, I illuminate the path to a brighter future, one where collective gesture holds the key to environmental protection.

As a woman in a male-dominated metier, my journey is one of disruption and defiance. With each piece, I push the boundaries of neon, using it as a catalyst for change. Through experimentation and innovation, I strive to redefine the medium, inspiring others to join me on this luminous journey toward a brighter tomorrow.

Chankalun’s Light as Air installation

In pursuit of this mastery, I’ve encountered challenges and triumphs alike. I’m currently in France (where I don’t speak the language) to study a year-long neon diploma at a public high school, delving into the origins of the craft. The neon studio – a realm of fiery burners and delicate glass – holds secrets known only to those who dare to enter and explore. It’s here, amid the flickering glow of neon tubes, that I’ve honed my craft, learning the art of bending light to my will.

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But neon is more than just a medium; it’s a symbol of resilience and ingenuity. From its humble beginnings in a French laboratory to its commanding presence in the streets of Hong Kong, neon has transcended its origins, becoming a beacon of hope and inspiration. In the heart of every neon creation lies a story, a testament to the human spirit and our capacity for creation. Each piece is a testament to the countless hours of labour and love poured into its creation and the enduring legacy of neon.

Looking to the future, I aim to set up a creative safe space for female-identifying bodies to explore the medium. I hope to see a world in which neon shines brighter than ever before, a world where innovation and sustainability converge, where neon is celebrated not just for its commercial value and beauty but also for its potential to change.

In this world, the secrets of neon are no longer shrouded in mystery, but shared openly with all who seek to learn. Together, we’ll illuminate the path forward, casting aside the shadows of doubt and uncertainty and embracing the boundless possibilities of the neon-lit future.

Source: Prestige Online

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