Stepping into Juno Shen’s minimalist Flatiron studio, a soft glow emanates from the table where she keeps the neon light sculptures she personally designs. The objects aren’t even plugged in, but they glitter in shades of neon green, scarlet, and fluorescent pink, their shimmer undeniably appealing.
Inspired by a bout of seasonal affective disorder in fall 2017, Shen took it upon herself to take an intensive neon class at Urban Glass, where she learned how to bend and program neon in addition to working with borosilicate glass, which she uses for her interior light installations.“Making these glass sculptures really healed me,” Shen says. “That was my meditation. I think when I was making the glass, my mind was really clear...Glass blowing was my way of saving myself.”
Originally from Beijing, the artist and VR designer graduated from Parsons in 2017. ?“After graduating, I had a hard time finding a job so I took a bootcamp and learned VR,” she explains. She spent time working with 88Rising and Here be Dragons, creating VR art—everything from an interactive kitchen experience with rapper Action Bronson to conceptualizing VR strip clubs for music festivals. She’s always been interested in transforming spaces, both in reality and VR.
Though she finished school not long ago, Shen’s neon work has already been commissioned by HBO—for “a cool girl’s apartment” in the series High Maintenance—and Adidas. Fashion designer Sandy Liang is a fan, as is nail artist Mei Kawajiri (the mastermind behind runway nails at Balenciaga and personal favorite of Gigi Hadid).
Shen’s latest project, dubbed “In Your Favor,” is a trio of neon light sculptures designed to be displayed indoors. Inspired by traditional Chinese zodiac, her three-piece debut collection focuses on classic Chinese iconography in specific cultures. Her pink Double Happiness piece takes a cue from the typical ornamental design of the same name that usually punctuates Chinese weddings in the form of decor and signage. “People in the history of China just love this character,” she says. The design was created by joining two Chinese characters together, meaning “joy.” “There’s restaurants that use it, there’s even double happiness cigarettes. It makes a lot of sense today too, because they are two of the same characters—it doesn’t matter what sexuality you have or who you are, it’s all about two people enjoying a moment together.”
The other two pieces in the collection are inspired by Mahjong tiles. The Make a Fortune piece is a reference to the “Fa” tile in the game, which symbolizes proceeding or beginning. The Eight of Bamboo sculpture is inspired by the Mahjong title of the same name and a tribute to the Crazy Rich Asians scene in which Rachel has a battle to gain acceptance from her potential mother-in-law during a game of Mahjong. Each sculpture retails for $998 and is available in a limited run exclusively on Shen’s website.
She’s also working on a special piece which will be available during Chinese New Year with a Year of the Pig theme. “The pig in Chinese culture is a lucky animal,” she explains. “This is just a generally lucky piece and just for anyone who is a pig sign in Chinese zodiac, because they usually suffer and have bad luck during their year—it’s red and it’s made in a traditional folk art paper cutting tradition.”
“I just want to share the belief of all these Chinese values,” she explains. Shen sees her work as a prompt for empowerment. “The zodiac are all very cautionary and it makes you be more proactive to prevent certain things from happening...having these as artwork in your home is a reminder.”
Here, Shen’s tips for adding neon light to your home:
Consider the Entryway, or 玄关[xuán guān]
“The word Xuan Guan came from the viewpoint of traditional Taoism, as the first gateway into the practice. The same term is also used in China to describe an entryway into a home. To create a good feng shui for your entryway, you will want the space to be well-lit and as open as possible. So placing a neon work here would be a no-brainer, especially one that showers you with good luck. You will always come home to a healthy and happy place and leave in the morning with a good mindset.”
Take It to the Bedroom
“Before I made neon lights, I always had red LED strips in my bedroom at night. It creates an intimate atmosphere and really relaxes me before sleep. The low intensity, longer wavelength red light makes you see better in the dark and your body just looks so good when the world turns red and black.”
Mix Water and Light
“As a cancer, I love water and I love taking baths. I travel to Japan twice a year just for a good onsen. Take chromatherapy to the next level by putting a neon light in your bathroom. It would look nice on a pedestal by the towels. Just imagine a pink-lit bubble bath!”
Become One With the Books
“I designed my neon artworks to be able to be placed on a surface or mounted on a wall. By having it among the books, family photos, and souvenirs, it lights up a dead corner at home and invites you to revisit the books that have been put off since the holidays.”
Use Windows Wisely
“Chinese paper cutting is a popular form of folk art during the new year. People glued red paper cuttings of good sayings and animals to the exterior of windows, so the light from the outside would shine through the negative space of the cutout. Some modern apartments are full of floor-to-ceiling windows. It would be fun to made use of all the empty spaces by putting a neon sign on the window.”