John 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. What’s more is that hardly anyone is aware of his roles in significant collectives, some he has co-founded, others that he has been a contributor to: Communiversity, Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, Billboard Liberation Front, Dark Passage/Ars Subterranea, Seafoam Palace LLC, SF Cyclecide Bike Rodeo, Survival Research Labs, SantaCon/flash mobs, Madagascar Institute, SEEMEN, Laughing Squid, Burning Man, and last but not least The Bronx Pipe Smoking Society.
“I’m real sick” 1977
“Jack Napier” (JLaw) & BLF
Photo of original billboard
18” x 12”
SIGNMAN: John Law is a three-month long retrospective of the San Francisco based, underground artist John Law, curated by Pro Arts’ Executive Director and curator, Natalia Mount. The exhibition, scheduled to open on June 7th, 2019, will include new work, documentation of events and explorations, neon art, and video works. For the first time, audiences will have the chance to meet SIGNMAN – one of the most influential avant-garde artists in the SF Bay Area.
“Golden Gate Bridge vertical no hands” 1986
18” x 12”
“John’s work offers tales from the underground that challenge doctrinaire analysis of our contemporary moment, characterized by a zombie like addiction to social media, weakening our ability or will to gather, explore and wonder informally,” says curator of the retrospective Natalia Mount. “We need the rituals of the underground today more than ever so we can imagine the world beyond capitalism, beyond commodification, desire and the menial production of objects and ideas in an art world, beholden to market value that institutions trade on, while exploiting the artists, central to the work. It is time to give props to one of the most under-recognized luminaries in San Francisco and beyond, John Law.
SIGNMAN: John Law retrospective will be accompanied by a public program, consisting of talks by several of John Law’s key collaborators and friends.
Mark Pauline: Preeminent machine artist, longtime art “prankster” Pauline and his troupe Survival Research Labs influenced generations of transgressive artist. His massive scale robotic “ballets of destruction” using repurposed military and industrial hardware and a great range of huge destructible props are unlike anything else seen in an art context, though perhaps not unfamiliar to mechanized warfare aficionados. Pauline and John Law became acquainted in the early 80’s while exploring the abandoned factories of San Francisco, Pauline for mechanical detritus to repurpose as art, Law scouting for locations to mount large-scale site-specific events for the Suicide Club & later Cacophony Society. In the early 90’s Law joined the SRL crew and built some of the largest destructible props for shows in Japan, Texas, LA, and San Francisco, many of these props incorporating neon as a design element.
Don Herron: Originator of the Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour now in its 41st year. The tour is the longest live literary walking tour in America. Herron was, along with John Law an early member of the Suicide Club. The pair will be talking about live action role-playing games (L.A.R.P.’s) and other events from the Suicide Club days of the late 1970’s. Herron is the editor and/or author of more than a dozen books, most dealing with hard-boiled detective fiction.
Ron English: Painter and influential street artist and billboard hacker. English and Jack Napier (John Law) of the Billboard Liberation Front became acquainted in the late 80s and worked together several times over the decades on billboard “improvements” in New York City and San Francisco. English was, along with Shepard Fairey and others a character in a Simpsons episode. The pair will discuss the dangers of perpetrating “illegal” art.
Julia Solis: An early originator in the world of urban exploration, Solis influenced later Urbex‘s luminaries, prominently Ninjalicious, Moses Gates, Steve Duncan and others in the “leave no trace” ethic adopted by the now worldwide community. Her two books, “New York Underground” and “Stages of Decay” are standard reading for serious urban explorers. Solis and Law will discuss the shadowy world of UrbEx (urban exploration) and tell tales of their various (mis) adventures exploring worldwide over the last 25 years.
William Binzen: Large-format expansive-tableau photographer. Binzen devised much of the philosophy that later became integral to the Burning Man Festival’s culture. In conjunction with the Cacophony Society and John Law, Binzen created four Desert Site Works events in the early 1990s that were liminal experiences that resonate in the larger culture to this day. Binzen and Law will discuss the philosophical underpinnings of Burning Man and tell tales of the playa from long before the event devolved into an entertainment for body painted naked wealthy attorneys and Hollywood types running amok on bad drugs.
Scott Beale: An early adopter of Internet based communication and social media; Scott was a primary figure in exposing the San Francisco’s artists & pranksters to the web. Long before Facebook, Scott’s “The Squid List” was how those interested in the SF underground found the most intriguing events, openings, shows, as well as other creative folks. Beale is owner of Laughing Squid, one of the oldest independent web hosts and culture blogs. Law is a minority owner and “Director of Special Projects” for The Squid. Beale was the first webmaster for Burning Man and, in his capacity as defacto scene videographer, filmed hundreds of Cacophony and early BM events and various other extreme group activities, taking place beyond the borders of normality. Beale and Law will discuss the interplay between and influence of the San Francisco underground on the nascent computer/internet/social media world of the 90’s in The Bay Area.
“Golden Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary, Sunday May 24th 1987”
Photo 16” x 10” 1 of 7 photos in series
About the Artist: John Law has been embedded in Oakland and San Francisco‘s underground art, pranks and events world since 1977. A member of the legendary Suicide Club, Law was instrumental in forming the later Cacophony Society which in turn gave birth to the Burning Man festival and the Billboard Liberation Front. Cacophony was the inspiration for the novel and movie Fight Club.
Law was a performance artist and an aerial performer in the 1990s working with machine art and theatrical troop Seemen and his on aerial performance troupe Aerial Action Team. An avid urban explorer, Law photographed many major bridges around the world while climbing them creating some 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. Laws neon work included other desert collaborations, prominently Desert Site Works with photographer/artist William Binzen.
Law, along with with Flecher Fleurdujon, 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.
Law is 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 Bay Area underground arts scene and its influence on the larger world.
Law remains deeply involved in the ongoing worldwide UrbEx scene and collaborates with many extreme underground exploration characters and secretive cabals.
About the Curator: Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, Mount holds an MBA in Media Management from the Metropolitan College of New York in New York, M.A. in Art Market from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a B.A. in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Mount has over twenty years of experience working in the contemporary art field at a number of institutions including MoMA PS1, one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art institutions in the United States, and the Clocktower, the oldest alternative art project in New York, with its radio station, Clocktower Radio, founded in 2003 as one of the first all-art online museum radio stations in the world.
While at MoMA PS1 and Clocktower, Mount worked with international scope of curators, artists, and institutions, and on seminal exhibitions such as the first Greater New Yorkin 2000; the retrospective of painter John Wesley, covering his entire career from 1961-2000; Around 1984: A Look at Art in the Eighties, Disasters of War: Francisco de Goya, Henry Darger, Jake and Dinos Chapman; Body Works: Bruce Nauman, Valie Export, Gabriel Orozco, Joan Jonas, and Louis Bourgouis; Sol LeWitt: Concrete Block; Min Tanaka presents Subject: Heuristic Ecdysis, Santiago Sierra, Person remunerated for a period of 360 consecutive hours, 2000, among others. In 2013, Mount was the Associate Director of Research and Archive for the Dale Henry Estate and subsequently, worked in the role of a consultant for the Dale Henry: The Artist Who Left New York retrospective exhibition at Pioneer Works, Center for Art and Innovation in Brooklyn, NY in the Spring of 2014.
Mount is the co- founder of FLUX Art Space – a pioneering nonprofit organization that commissions and produces long-term art projects, claiming the intersection of art, technology, and civic engagement. Mount is also the founder of Redhouse Radio, the first radio station in Central New York, exclusively dedicated to programming in the arts. From 2007 until 2012, Mount was the Executive Director of The Red House Arts Center, a nonprofit, multi-arts organization dedicated to interdisciplinary works in theatre, music, and the visual arts. From 2010 until 2012, Mount served on the Advisory Panel for New York State Council on the Arts’ Theatre Program and prior to that appointment, she co-founded NYSCA’s Upstate/Downstate Theatre and Presenting Programs Initiative with the mission to promote collaborations between small and mid-sized NYC-based producing/presenting organizations and their upstate counterparts. She is a recipient of The Ewing Marion Kauffman Prize in Entrepreneurship and the 2011 Arts Connect Curator of the Year Award. Select presentations at International conferences include: “The Politics of Representation, Displacement and Hybridity in Cultural Production” at Light/Move Festival, Łódź, Poland, 2011; “Situational Technologies Reinvestigated Through Open Network Radio Utilizing Modular Transmission in Urban Areas,” at the Third International Puredata Convention, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 2009.
Mount’s curatorial practice utilizes a trans-disciplinary approach to the politics of representation, visual art and cultural memory. Select curatorial projects and new work commissions include: The Imagining Post-Capitalism festival in Oakland & San Francisco; The New Situationists exhibition and public program at Pro Arts Gallery; LUMEN International Video and Projection Festival, including more than 50 individual artists and collectives; Decadent Eclipse: Marion Wilson, Joro de Boro, Jessica Posner, Daniela Kostova, Michael Burkard, Samantha Harmon; HOUSE/XAYC: Hybrid Authenticity Under Construction site-specific project by collective XAYC; I Stole It, I Borrowed, I Broke It: 4 Residency Unlimited Artists, with Anne Percoco, Edward Schexnayder, Kate Shaw and Eve K. Tremblay; Lewis Colburn’s The X-Prize and The Herotic Theory of Invention; Matthew Gehring’s From the Bottom of My Heart; Inventory of Terrors, a piano quintet written by Andrew Waggoner for “Open End,” and Blake Carrington’s Topoextension, among others.
In addition to Mount’s extensive curatorial and theoretical background and practice in the visual arts, Mount has curated and produced numerous theatre works, among which are: Tongues Will Wag, written and performed by Mike Daisey and directed by Jean-Michelle Gregory; Lovesong, written by John Kolvenbach and directed by Peter Moller; The Eaten Heart, written & directed by The Debate Society, Evolution, written and performed by Patricia Buckley, directed by Leslie Noble; Intringuilis, written and performed by Carlo Alban and directed by David Anzuelo, co-production with LAByrinth Theatre Company, NYC; Nuit Blanche, an original dance theatre peace by CORPUS; and Radio Play by Reggie Watts & Tommy Smith.
Mount has also curated and produced Film and Music programs such as: ((Audience))Experimental Cinema & Sound Festival (Cinema for the Eyes & Ears); Overcoming the Spectacle: A Cinema of Pure Means; and Art as Politics, screenings of Predictions of Fireand Taking Down a Dictator; The Leading-Edge Series: Contemporary Classical Concerts for Small Audiences with performances by Neil Rolnick, Flexible Music, Sequitur, and Open End; Performances by Alva Noto & Byetone; Ashtray Navigations/Chris Corsano & Michael Flowers; Mellits Consort (USA); Real Quite; Zach Layton & MV Carbon; Loud Objects and others.
In the role of a consultant, Mount has worked on numerous strategic and development plans and large-scale fundraising projects with organizations, such as: Residency Unlimited; Studio REV-, Royal Theatre Productions; Ruby Slippers Fundraising; Big Deal Advisory; and the Amoralists Inc., among others. Mount has also taught graduate classes in Business, Art Management and Art History. Last but not least, Mount has developed many innovative online platforms for artistic and cultural exchange, such as Lexicon and Exquisite Corps. Mount is currently collaborating on a book, concerning the topic of contemporary art production in Bulgaria, post-communism.
SIGNMAN: John Law is a monumental exhibition, covering 40 years of work and life. We need your support in order to realize this exhibition in a way, in which we dare to dream.
Your generous donations will fund directly all exhibition related expenses, including artist and public program speakers’ fees.
For more information on how to make a donation, please contact the curator of this retrospective and the Executive Director of Pro Arts, Natalia Mount at email@example.com or donate directly, through PayPal here:
THANK YOU IN ADANCE FOR YOUR GENEROSITY!
SIGNMAN: John Law is in part funded by the Rex Foundation.