"Long live the Luther Blissett dissidents, fuck the Luther Blissett Project!" shouted a protester when a brawl broke out in an Italian bookshop at the tail end of last year. The conflict had started with some eye rolling, mumbled swearing and ssshhing during a reading. Then tempers rose. Before long, the speaker had risen to his feet, moved towards a particularly disruptive audience member in a black hoodie, and launched some punches. The reason? The speaker had declared that "artivist" Luther Blissett was back, and some people clearly didn't agree.
Index on Censorship magazine was founded in 1972 to publish the untold stories and promote free expression. Over the years, it has published some of the greatest names in literature, including Samuel Beckett, Gabriel Garcia Marquéz, Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut. It also has published some of the greatest campaigning writers of our age from Vaclav Havel to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Vol 45 no 3 at exacteditions.com No©2016
What ever happened to Luther Blissett?
Vicky Baker looks at the enduring legacy of a 1990s collective of Italian writers and activists who carried out a series of media hoaxes in the name of a Watford FC footballer
“LUTHER BLISSETT IS nobody… and everybody!” said Constantinos Tachtsidis, a journalist and musician from Greece who runs the Luther Blissett Music Project. Since 2009, he has been collaborating with musicians across the country, producing and sharing songs under the same name: Luther Blissett. His project was inspired by a 1990s Italian activist group, which was, in turn, oddly inspired by an English footballer whose name was appropriated as the collective’s pseudonym. “It is something like a guerilla war on the cultural industry,” Tachtsidis told Index. “Long live the Luther Blissett dissidents, fuck the Luther Blissett Project!” shouted a protester when a brawl broke out in an Italian bookshop at the tail end of last year. The conflict had started with some eye rolling, mumbled swearing and ssshhing during a reading. Then tempers rose. Before long, the speaker had risen to his feet, moved towards a particularly disruptive audience member in a black hoodie, and launched some punches. The reason? The speaker had declared that “artivist” Luther Blissett was back, and some people clearly didn’t agree. The original Luther Blissett collective committed ritual suicide almost 17 years ago. The group of Italian cultural activists decided enough was enough. Together they had written books, including best-selling historical thriller Q, and conducted a stream of media pranks, such as convincing an Italian TV programme to cover the disappearance of British conceptual artist, Harry Kipper, who had gone missing while biking along the Italian-Yugoslav border. (Harry Kipper didn’t exist. And neither did Loota, the female chimpanzee they said would exhibiting at the 1995 Venice Biennale of Contemporary Arts). The fight in the Rome bookshop happened last November during the launch of a new title, The Luther Blissett Project in Rome: 1995 to 1999. The book uncovers lesser-known stories of offshoot activities in the capital, away from the founders’ base in Bologna. On YouTube, footage of the book-shop fight includes a footnote mentioning Rome theatre group, Dynamis Teatro, implying that this too might have been a stunt. “You guessed right,” Dynamis Teatro’s Valentina Vaccarini told Index. “The audience didn’t know it was staged. In fact, most of them were embarrassed and some were nervous about what was going on.” “I am Luther Blissett. I have organised and performed the event at the bookshop,” wrote an Italian activist, who wished to remain anonymous, in an email to Index. They insisted a clear distinction should now been drawn between the obsolete Luther Blissett Project and the collective pseudonym Luther Blissett, which is still in use today. “In Italy you can find an indefinite number of individuals making use of this name for political, cultural and artistic activities.” Roberto Bui, one of the founders of the original project, told Index they are fed up with being asked about Luther Blissett. “For us, it’s archaeology,” he said. They ensured the project only lasted five years, as a nod to Stalin’s first five-year plan to collectivise the Soviet economy, but their curious slogan, “Be Luther Blissett”, soon ran out of their hands and others, including Tachtsidis in Greece, have been picking up on it ever since. This was always the intention. Bui and his colleagues produced all their works under a “copyleft” policy - ie the antithesis of copyright and a precursor to Creative Commons licensing. Marco Deseriis, author of the book Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous, believes the motivations behind using a collective pseudonym go beyond simply wanting to mask an identity. “Only a handful of shared pseudonyms have gained international notoriety,” he told Index. “This is due to the fact that these pseudonyms emerge in times of cri-sis, when other forms of representation are precluded. Yet we can say that pseudonyms such as Luther Blissett and Anonymous have influenced, perhaps indirectly, a variety of actors.” He cites movements and grassroots organisations including the Tea Party, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter, which may experience disagreements over use of their name, “a practice that is accelerated and made highly visible by the hashtag politics of social media”. As for the original founders of the Luther Blissett Project, they went on to found the Wu Ming Foundation in 2000 and have continued to write collectively, albeit now with only three of the original five members. Their identities are not a guarded secret, although Wu Ming -which means anonymous in Mandarin -is a common byline for dissidents in China. It was a pseudonym for director Wang Xiaoshuai for his 1997 film Frozen, which was banned in China after he screened his previous film internationally without government approval. Meanwhile, in the UK, the real Luther Blissett is very much alive and well. The former Watford Football Club and AC Milan striker had his name appropriated for reasons he’s never quite understood, but he has come to accept it. As he said to Italian journalist Malcom Pagani: “The first time I heard about this thing, I didn’t want to believe it. To think that someone, a group or a single person, could take on my name seemed ridiculous. I’ve never wanted to be anyone other than myself in my life. Then I reflected on it and I was happy. It was like leaving a sign of my passage, a fingerprint, a stone left behind on a street.”
Vicky Baker is deputy editor of Index on Censorship magazine. She tweets @vickybaker
The project lasted five years … but their curious slogan, “Be Luther Blissett”, ran out of their hands
The Vicky Baker interview to a roman Luther Blissett
I am writing from a magazine in the UK. Sorry, I don’t speak Italian. Do you speak English? Or French or Spanish? I have been speaking to Dynamis Teatro about the Luther Blissett performance in the bookshop. I understand you were involved? Is there anyone who could answer some questions on this? And do you have any photos of the event?
All the best
I am Luther Blissett, I have organised and performed the event at the bookshop. The Dynamis Teatro is one of my personalities, so I can answer to your questions, via email exclusively.
As far as concern the pictures you ask for, I confirm that no photos were made. Only a video was recorded. By the end of September, if you want, I can extract some pictures from this video, in HD format. I could also send you as well other visual materials (flyers and cover pages) of Rome Luther Blissett Project.
With my best wishes,
No, *I* am Luther Blissett.
Just kidding. Great to hear from you.
I am interested in how you have been bring the project back to life. Is it something you are still doing now?
Do you use this alter ego often?
Were you involved in writing the book project?
How was the Rome branch the project different from the original Bologna branch?
My deadline is soon so I can’t wait for high-res video stills, but if you have a high-res cover image or flyer or anything else, that would be great
All the very best
I am more than sure, you are without doubts me.
However, I do not represent an individual, as you might know, I’m a multiple identity. For that reason, it is impossible for me to reply as a former Party’s militant.
I would be very pleased if you try to reformulate your questions, as the interview should be directly to Luther Blissett, in other terms *ME*.
With regard to Rome Luther Blissett Project, even in this case the answer on that branch will be released on behalf of multiple character Luther Blissett, so, as above mentioned, *ME*.
Sorry for being so precise, but any individual having a second and first name cannot speak on my behalf. ;)
With my best wishes
I need at least 3-4-days.
Thank you Luther. Sadly I am on deadline. Can i just get one answer today. And the photos by Friday? Sorry, I have found you late. I have been trying for weeks.
Can I make it more general, as below? Even just the answer to one question would be helpful.
I will be clear that you are just one of the Luther Blissetts in the world and not the authority.
- The original founders tried to kill the Luther Blissett project, but is this possible? I have found people still using it in, for example, Greece.
- How is the project or its legacy, its offshoots, still active in Italy?
All the very best
Everyone could be Luther Blissett.
Everyone who makes use of this multiple name has the authority to act as Luther Blissett.
You asked: The original founders tried to kill the Luther Blissett project, but is this possible? I have found people still using it in, for example, Greece.
The reason is that Luther Blissett Project suicide concerned those who made use the collective pseudonym within 1994 - 1999 period and exclusively for Rome and Bologna.
Besides that, it becomes necessary to make a clear difference between the multiple name Luther Blissett and Luther Blissett Project.
The multiple name might be used to play a game within a minute, an hour or an entire day. Instead of, the Luther Blissett Project remains alive for years. On the other side, the Luther Blissett Project represents only a small self-organized group of “dividuals”, when Luther Blissett acquires the value of an anonymous crowd continuously alive.
You asked: How is the project or its legacy, its offshoots, still active in Italy?
My answer is: S/he is active in terms of collective pseudonym and not as a Project. In Italy you can find an indefinite number of individuals making use of this name for political, cultural and artistic activities.
As previously said, there are no pictures available.
Flyers and other materials you will get within Friday.
Here some materials about the Luther Blissett Project in Rome…
Vicky vanished without a trace.