Working man

Jeff Johnson

Photo By brad bynum

To many Northern Nevada residents, Jeff Johnson’s name is synonymous with neon art. He organized a group art exhibition at West Street Market, 148 West St., titled Work: Neon Centennial Light Opera and Revival Meeting. It’s on display though Aug. 8.

Tell me about Work.

OK. Like [local arts festival] Nada Motel, Work is an example of mutual aid and applied practical anarchy. A bunch of collaborators come together. They all work together on projects. In this case, it’s all new applications for neon because we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the invention of neon.

Tell me about neon.

OK. In 1910, at the Paris Exhibition, a guy named Georges Claude, a Frenchman named Claude, had invented the process of electrodes and bombardment, so that the electricity could get inside the vacuum tube, thus creating illumination.

How long have you been working with neon?

Since 1994.

I think for a lot of local people your name and neon are sort of synonymous.

Yes … but it’s not about me. Somebody said, “It’s all about you!” And I said, “What do you mean? I don’t even use my name in the ad!” There’s a baker …

Name names. Who are we talking about?

Elaine Parks. Erik Holland. Chris Blum. John Molezzo. Asa Gilmore. Kai Prescher. Ned Peterson. Lew Zaumeyer. Brian Burghart. Mallory Mishler. Tova Ramos. Bernie Beauchamp. … It’s inside and outside at the West Street Market. … The only thing that the pieces all have in common is that they have something to do with neon. They either are neon, or pictures of neon, or neon is used somehow in it. There’s three where the neon is in ceramics. One is with knitted audiotape.

Tell me about the title.

We’re not playing around, it’s all about work. [Reading:] “Work is a survival technique using cooperation, sociability, and solidarity between free individuals without central control. Strong governments repress cooperation and pit race and class against each other.” Anyway … what I’m trying to point out is that it’s just an extension of the whole Nada Motel idea.

I’m getting that. How’s it going to be different from Nada Motel? Some of the same names—

A lot of the same names.

—and a similar spirit. But how’s it going to be different?

Well, it all was around one theme: the neon. Whereas Nada Motel is celebrating Reno’s unlimited potential for absurdity, and arguing about the name.