John Law (artist)

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John Law (born November 17, 1958)[1] is an American artist, culture-jammer, and co-founder of the Cacophony Society and a member of the Suicide Club. He is also a co-founder of Burning Man (a.k.a. Zone Trip #4, a.k.a. Black Rock City) which evolved out of the spirit of the Cacophony Society[2] when a precursor solstice party was banned from San Francisco's Baker Beach and merged with another Cacophony event on the Black Rock desert in Nevada. Originally from Michigan, Law has lived in San Francisco, California since 1976.[3]

John Law in front of the Old Town Bar and Restaurant, New York City, November 5, 2011. (Credit: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid)
Manny, Moe and Jack, three of the 12 remaining Doggie Diner heads from San Francisco.

Art projectsEdit

Law has worked for many years as a commercial neon contractor. His neon artistic projects have included re-configuring the neon of a Camel cigarette billboard to say "Am I dead yet" as part of the Billboard Liberation Front,[4] underwater neon art as part of Desert Siteworks at Trego Hot Springs in the Black Rock Desert,[5] neon illumination of the man at Burning Man through 1996.[6] He has also been responsible for maintaining the neon of the Tribune Tower in Oakland, CA.[4]

Law owns and maintains three of the 12[7] remaining Doggie Diner heads, which were located above the restaurants of a small fast food chain in San Francisco and Oakland. The dog heads were featured in a 2003 movie called "Head Trip" that featured a cross-country trip with the Doggie Diner heads, ending in a show by Cyclecide at CBGB in New York City.[8][9]

Urban explorationEdit

Law has participated in urban exploration for over three decades, starting with the Suicide Club (1977-1982).[10] He has climbed the Golden Gate Bridge many times[11] and explored underground bunkers.[12][13][14][15]

Cacophony SocietyEdit

John Law is one of the early members of the Cacophony Society, a Culture jamming group with open membership, inspired in part by his earlier participation in the Suicide Club, which was in turn influenced by dadaists and situationists. Cacophony Society began in San Francisco, California, but eventually spread to most major cities in the United States and some outside the US. Claims have been made that Cacophony Society no longer exists, although some chapters are still active.

In 2013 John Law, along with Kevin Evans and Carrie Galbraith, co-authored "Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society",[16] a book published by Last Gasp documenting the San Francisco Cacophony Society.

Burning ManEdit

Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco[17] and burned an 8 feet (2.4 m) tall wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog.

In 1990, a separate event was planned by Kevin Evans and John Law on the remote and largely unknown dry lake known as Black Rock Desert, about 110 miles north of Reno, Nevada.[18] Evans conceived it as a dadaist temporary autonomous zone with sculpture to be burned and situationist performance art. He asked John Law, who also had experience on the dry lake and was a defining founder of Cacophony Society, to take on central organizing functions. In the Cacophony Society's newsletter, it was announced as Zone No. 4, A Bad Day at Black Rock (inspired by the 1955 film of the same name).

Meanwhile, the beach burn was interrupted by the park police for not having a permit. After striking a deal to raise the Man but not to burn it, event organizers disassembled the effigy and returned it to the vacant lot where it had been built. Shortly thereafter, the legs and torso of the Man were chain-sawed and the pieces removed when the lot was unexpectedly leased as a parking lot. The effigy was reconstructed, led by Dan Miller, Harvey's then-housemate of many years, just in time to take it to Zone Trip No. 4.[19]

Michael Mikel, another active Cacophonist, realized that a group unfamiliar with the environment of the dry lake would be helped by knowledgeable persons to ensure they did not get lost in the deep dry lake and risk dehydration and death. He took the name Danger Ranger and created the Black Rock Rangers. Thus the seed of Black Rock City was germinated, as a fellowship, organized by Law and Mikel, based on Evans' idea, along with Harvey and James' symbolic man.

The three most well-known founders and present partners in ownership of its name and trademark (Law, Michael Mikel, and Larry Harvey)[20] were known as "The Temple of the Three Guys".[21]

John Law, center, guest on Night School, a show at Endgames Improv

Artistic contributionsEdit

Law, a neon sculptor and artist, originated the concept and design of installing neon on the Man at Burning Man[6] , an act which at once created an invaluable navigation aid and an indelible, omnipresent symbol. At an event which at that time had no streets, street signs, fences, or any other artificially imposed boundaries, and which took place in the virtually featureless deep playa (on which it was very easy to lose one's bearings or misjudge distances and wind up stranded alone in the desert), this navigation aid certainly saved a lot of people a lot of trouble, and may well have saved lives. The early years of the festival allowed driving throughout the city but eventually curbed the practice back to only art cars. The symbol of the Burning Man, which had been added to the desert event later and was not part of its initial inception, became more and more identified with the event, in part because with the addition of the neon it was always universally visible, becoming the single unchanging reference point psychologically as well as physically.

Founders' conflictEdit

The last year John Law attended Burning Man was in 1996 when his friend, Michael Furey died in a motorcycle crash [21] while setting up the event and a couple were run over in a tent by an inattentive driver attempting to get to the distant rave camp.[22][23] After Law and Larry Harvey had fierce disagreements about these incidents and other issues, he left in disgust proclaiming that the event should not continue.

In 2007, the three partners were engaged in a legal struggle over control of the name and symbol of Burning Man.[24] Law's response to this struggle was to take legal action to dissolve the controlling partnership and release the name and symbol into the public domain.[25] The final outcome was settled out of court in 2008[26] with Law’s interest being bought out by the current organizers which also ended the "Temple of the Three Guys" partnership.


  • "The Space Between" (2009, Furnace Press; ISBN 978-0977274246). Three short stories about bridges.
  • "Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society" by Carrie Galbraith (author), John Law (author), Kevin Evans (editor) (2013, Last Gasp; ISBN 0867197749).


  1. ^ John Law's blog, post of October 19, 2018 referring to 60th birthday Retrieved July 4, 2019.
  2. ^ Wazna-Blank, Stevanie (2013-09-20). "What Inspired Fight Club, Santacon, and Burning Man?". San Francisco Magazine.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Lefebvre, Sam (2015-09-09). "Burning Man Cofounder John Law Spent Burning Man at Tribune Tower, Thinking about Bridges". East Bay Express. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  5. ^ "Light Fantastic: the culture and craft of neon lighting and its remaining masters". Kodachrome Magazine. No. 3. 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-23. Lay
  6. ^ a b Amato, Mia (1993-12-19). "Gardens in a New Light". San Francisco Examiner – via  
  7. ^ Rafkin, Louise (2001-11-04). "FaceTime / John Law". SFGate. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  8. ^ Casey, Laura (2008-01-22). "Get along, (not so) little doggies Quirky collector takes his large-scale Doggie Diner collection on the road for film called 'Head Trip'". Oakland Tribune. ProQuest 352250480.
  9. ^ Beale, Scott (2008-01-21). "Head Trip, A Doggie Diner Dog Head Cross-Country Documentary". Laughing Squid. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  10. ^ Nakao, Annie (2005-03-06). "SUBCULTURE / Going underground / Urban explorer documents the hidden world of speakeasies, sewers and subways". SFGate. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  11. ^ Bailey, Schuyler (July–August 2013). "Project Mayhem: Inside the Wild World and History of SF's Cacophony Society". 7x7. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  12. ^ Wildman, Don (2009-01-12). "Under The Rock". Cities of the Underworld. Season 3. History Channel. Retrieved 2018-11-21.
  13. ^ Fagan, Kevin (2011-02-22). "Caves: 'Urban explorers' discover secret world below". SF Gate. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  14. ^ Kamiya, Gary (February 2016). "The Unkillable Arts Underground". San Francisco Magazine. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  15. ^ Solis, Julia (2005). New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City. Psychology Press. p. 221. ISBN 9780415950138. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  16. ^ "Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society". Last Gasp. Archived from the original on 2013-05-08.
  17. ^ Morehead, John W. (2009). "Burning Man Festival in Alternative Interpretive Analysis". Sacred Tribes Journal. 4 (1): 19–41. ISSN 1941-8167. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  18. ^ "Bad Day at Black Rock (Cacophony Society Zone Trip #4)". January 18, 2007. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  19. ^ "What is Burning Man?: Early Years". Burning Man. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  20. ^ Kane, Jenny (2017-08-16). "Rogue Burner is Ready to Talk". Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved 2018-10-23 – via  
  21. ^ a b Doherty, Brian (July 2006). This Is Burning Man. Benbella Books. ISBN 978-1-932100-86-0. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  22. ^ Stark, Jeff (1996-09-11). "Samples". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  23. ^ Williams, Joe (1997-08-31). "A Hot Issue: Burning Man Festival Getting Too Popular". St. Louis Post-Dispatch – via  
  24. ^ "Founders of Burning Man mired in dispute". Associated Press. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  25. ^ Wohlsen, Marcus (2007-01-11). "Burning Man co-founder files lawsuit over name". Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved 2018-10-22 – via  
  26. ^ Robinson, Roxy (2015). Music Festivals and the Politics of Participation. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 124. ISBN 9781409457763. Retrieved 2018-10-25.

External linksEdit