“Although my father and I now live in different worlds, I believe this artwork strengthened our relationship in some way.”
Born Wuhan, Hubei, 1971
For He An, neon signs denote more than the names of shops, companies and nightclubs. They also speak of the city and the night, of loneliness, sex and death—and far more loudly than people do. “In the city, what we say in our little apartment is not important,” he declares. “What is important is the words the neon lights project onto us.” Signs are, in the artist’s words, What Makes Me Understand What I Know (2009). Dozens of characters taken from signs—some factory seconds, some stolen to order by friends—spell out, like words in a Chinese version of Scrabble, the names of the artist’s late father and a Japanese soft-porn actress. Each name is written twice, once forward and once backward. Their owners’ relationships to He An have also been reversed. “My father used to live near me, and I could visit him regularly. The Japanese actress seemed far away; I could only see her on the Internet. Now my father has passed out of this world. At least Miho Yoshioka and I live in the same world and there is a chance I might see her one day.” Through their names alone, two total strangers become signs of grief and eros, brought together by the only person on earth who loved them both.