John Law has been embedded in Oakland and San Francisco‘s underground art, pranks and events world as a prime mover of culture jamming since 1977. A member of the legendary urban exploration Suicide Club, Law was instrumental in forming the later Cacophony Society and in turn co-founded the Burning Man festival and the Billboard Liberation Front. The Cacophony Society was the inspiration for the novel and movie Fight Club.
Law is an enigma. And if you ask him, he wants to stay that way. After forty-two years of artmaking, urban explorations, pranks, happenings and a multitude of essays, somehow, he remains largely unknown in the art establishment. He was a performance artist and an aerial performer in the 1990s working with machine art and theatrical troop Seemen and his own aerial performance troupe Aerial Action Team. An avid urban explorer, Law photographed many major bridges around the world while climbing them creating unique images. In addition to cofounding and acting as Operations Manager of the Burning Man Festival during its early years, Law pioneered the use of neon at the now world-famous festival and originated the neon outline for the Burning Man figure. Law’s neon work included other desert collaborations, prominently Desert Site Works with photographer/artist William Binzen. His talks at the Nevada Museum of Art about Burning Man are useful history: Part 1 and Part 2 — and a book about the origins of the Cacophony Society is available here.
Along with with Flecher Fleurdujon, Law directed the feature film Head Trip showcasing the antics of punk rock performance troupe Cyclecide accompanying The Bay Area’s massive Doggie Diner heads on a cross-country trip to perform at the famous punk club CBGB’s in New York City.
He’s currently involved in creating new neon art pieces incorporating various plastic media, transparencies, found objects, and text. Law has lectured around the world on the history of the Bay Area underground arts scene and its influence on the larger world. His 2019 retrospective show “Signman,” at Oakland’s Pro Arts Gallery, is a 43-year retrospective of his work and a full review of that show is available here.
Law remains deeply involved in the ongoing worldwide UrbEx scene and collaborates with many extreme underground exploration characters and secretive cabals. You can learn more about him and his compatriots in the videos below:
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