John Law (Burning Man)

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John Law, left, and Michael Mikel a.k.a. Danger Ranger another Burning Man founder.

John Law 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 the Burning Man Festival (a.k.a. Zone Trip #4, a.k.a. Black Rock City) which evolved out of the spirit of the Cacophony Society 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[1].

Cacophony Society[edit]

John Law is one of the co-founders 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",[2] a book published by Last Gasp documenting the San Francisco Cacophony Society.

Burning Man[edit]

Law is one of the five co-founders of two events that merged to form what became known as the Burning Man Festival, a.k.a. Black Rock City. The three most well-known founders and present partners in ownership of its name and trademark (Law, Michael Mikel, and Larry Harvey) were known as "The Temple of the Three Guys" (a phrase coined by Chris de Monterey, when he proposed 3 large plywood cartoon cutouts of the founders as a comic honorarium to be installed at Burning Man) according to the Brian Doherty book, This is Burning Man (Little, Brown, 2004).

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

Artistic contributions[edit]

Law, a neon sculptor and artist, originated the concept and design of installing neon on the Man at Burning Man, 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' conflict[edit]

The last year John Law attended the Burning Man Festival was in 1996 when his friend, Michael Fury died in a motorcycle crash 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.[3] 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. 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. The final outcome was arbitrated out of court with Law’s interest being bought out by the current organizers which also ended the "Temple of the Three Guys" partnership.


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