The history of the city is a story of darkness and light. It is a story of conflict. The darkness tries to swallow the city everyday, and the light fights it back. In early London very few streets would be lit at night meaning that when it was dark, it simply was dark. There was no lifeline of light through the blackness, the rules of the day where rewritten and the streets where owned by the daring and the desperate. It is hard to operate power when you cannot see your subject and you cannot see yourself, power is to an extent built on a superiority of knowledge and ability, of equipment and know how, but the authority that lives in the light can evaporate in the dark. The dark is dangerous, because the dark is democratic. Cities though are definied by their stubborn unwillingness to allow the dark to stop them, cities need all hours of the day, cities need to live in the darkness. Cities need light.
There is something permanently and mysteriously beautiful about neon. Even when you can see every fitting and every wire it still seems to be floating magically in mid air. It penetrates the darkness in such a way that it seems to be written onto the world itself. Nothing could be more of the city than this: neon plays with and recreates reality just as the city does, by the time it is finished it is the man made, rather than the natural, that has become the overbearing sub-structure of our reality. Neon writes in the air and is undeniable. It is beautiful.
My love affair with neon goes back to being a first year art student from the deep dark country side arriving in the big city for the first time. Though various mistakes and poor organisation ended up getting of on the last train and wondering out into a city shrouded in darkness. Wondering down seedy streets that seemed to jump out of some old film noir detective drama or gangster movie, I saw neon as the definition of all that was urban life. Garish and beautiful, dangerous and daring, bright and terrifying. Yet all the time somehow inviting.
‘Bar Martini’ one of the beautiful neon signs.
Neon is not as every present as it once was in the city, so it needs to be celebrated now more than ever. I plan to celebrate it at any opportunity, in the house and out the window. To all I say: get neon, show neon, use neon. It is what the city is about.