Luther Blissett

Q

Luther Blissett is a multiple-use name, an ‘open pop star’ informally adopted and shared by hundreds of artists and activists all over Europe and the Americas since 1994. The pseudonym first appeared in Bologna, Italy, in mid-1994, when a number of cultural activists began using it for staging a series of urban and media pranks and to experiment with new forms of authorship and identity.

From Bologna the multiple-use name spread to other European cities, such as Rome and London, as well as countries such as Germany, Spain, and Slovenia. Sporadic appearances of Luther Blissett have been also noted in Canada, the United States, Finland and Brazil.

For reasons that remain unknown, though according to one former member the decision was based purely on the perceived comic value of the name, the pseudonym was borrowed from a real-life Luther Blissett, a Jamaican-born soccer player for the England National team in the 1980s. In December 1999, the Italian activists who had launched the Luther Blissett Project in 1994 decided to discontinue usage of the name by committing symbolic ritual suicide, or seppuku. After authoring the best-selling historic novel ‘Q’ as Luther Blissett, five of them went on to found the writers’ collective Wu Ming (Chinese for ‘nameless’).

While the folk heroes of the early-modern period and the nineteenth century served a variety of social and political purposes, the Luther Blissett Project (LBP) were able to utilize the media and communication strategies unavailable to their predecessors. According to Marco Deseriis, the main purpose of the LBP was to create ‘a folk hero of the information society’ whereby knowledge workers and immaterial workers could organize and recognize themselves. Thus, rather than being understood only as a media prankster and culture jammer, Luther Blissett became a positive mythic figure that was supposed to embody the very process of community and cross-media storytelling.

Roberto Bui—one of the co-founders of the LBP and Wu Ming—explains the function of Luther Blissett and other radical folk heroes as mythmaking or mythopoesis: ‘Mythopoesis is the social process of constructing myths, by which we do not mean ‘false stories,’ we mean stories that are told and shared, re-told and manipulated, by a vast and multifarious community, stories that may give shape to some kind of ritual, some sense of continuity between what we do and what other people did in the past. A tradition. In Latin the verb ‘tradere’ simply meant ‘to hand down something,’ it did not entail any narrow-mindedness, conservatism or forced respect for the past Revolutions and radical movements have always found and told their own myths.’

Another important element was relationship of the Italian LBP to the Autonomist-Marxist theory of labor known as Italian Workerism. Drawing from the work of Italian Workerists, such as sociologist and political philosopher Antonio Negri, the activists of the LBP envisioned Blissett as the expression of the capacity of immaterial workers to produce forms of wealth that cannot be properly measured and attributed to an individual producer. The incalculably of these new forms of labor is articulated in the ‘Declaration of Rights of Luther Blissett,’ redacted by the Roman LBP in 1995. In this manifesto, the LBP claims that because in late capitalism any social activity can potentially generate value, the culture and media industries should guarantee a basic income to every citizen detached from individual productivity:

‘The industry of the integrated spectacle and immaterial command owes me money.

I will not come to terms with it until I will not have what is owed to me. For all the times I appeared on TV, films, and on the radio as a casual passersby or as an element of the landscape, and my image has not been compensated . . . for all the words or expressions of high communicative impact I have coined in peripheral cafes, squares, street corners, and social centers that became powerful advertising jingles, without seeing a dime; for all the times my name and my personal data have been put at work inside stats, to adjust the demand, refine marketing strategies, increase the productivity of firms to which I could not be more indifferent; for all the advertising I continuously make by wearing branded t-shirts, backpacks, socks, jackets, bathing suits, towels, without my body being remunerated as a commercial billboard; for all of this and much more, the industry of the integrated spectacle owes me money! I understand it may be difficult to calculate how much they owe me as an individual. But this is not necessary at all, because I am Luther Blissett, the multiple and the multiplex. And what the industry of the integrated spectacle owes me, it is owed to the many that I am, and is owed to me because I am many. From this viewpoint, we can agree on a generalized compensation. You will not have peace until I will not have the money! LOTS OF MONEY BECAUSE I AM MANY: CITIZEN INCOME FOR LUTHER’

In January 1995, Harry Kipper, a British conceptual artist, disappeared at the Italo-Slovenian border while touring Europe on a mountain bike, allegedly while tracing the word ‘ART’ on the map of the continent. The victim of the prank is a famous missing-persons prime-time show on the Italian state television. They send out a TV crew to look for a person that never existed. They go as far as London, where novelist Stewart Home and Richard Essex of the London Psychogeographical Association pose as close friends of Kipper’s. The hoax goes on until Luther Blissett claims responsibility for it.

In September 1994, a Bolognese community radio began broadcasting ‘Radio Blissett,’ a late-night show featuring a variable number of Luther Blissetts who ‘patrolled’ the city on foot and called the studio from local phone booths. Inspired by the Lettrist-Situationist urban drift or dérive—a seemingly aimless wandering through the city whereby psychogeographers go in search of heightened emotional experiences—Radio Blissett allowed players to interact at a distance in real time. Listeners could also call in from home and direct the patrols to various locations to join or create unexpected social events, including guerrilla-theater interventions, street parties, three-sided football matches, and ‘psychic attacks’ against public buildings and institutions.

In the Spring of 1995, the experiment was duplicated in Rome, where the wider extension of the city required the simultaneous use of car patrols and cell phones. The Saturday night show, which aired on the frequencies of Radio Città Futura, featured psychic attacks against the Italian copyright office, the office of employment, and other semi-improvised direct actions which culminated in one of the most well-known episodes of the Blissett’s saga.

In June 1995, few dozen listeners of Roman Radio Blissett boarded a night tram at different consecutive stops. A rave party took place on the vehicle until the police decided to stop it. Requested to disembark and identify themselves, the ravers refused to identify themselves other than with the multiple-use name. A riot ensued in which the police fired three shots in the air. A journalist from Radio Citta’ Futura covered the event with his cell phone broadcasting the riot and the shots on the radio program. The radio program caused a media sensation.

Later that month, Loota, a female chimpanzee whose paintings were to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Arts, was revealed to be fictitious. Loota was described as a former victim of sadistic experiments in a pharmaceutical lab. The ape was claimed to have been saved by the Animal Liberation Front, and to have later became a talented artist. Some newspapers announced the event. However, Loota did not exist.

In November 1995, Luther Blissett is credited with an article in the ‘Workshop For A Non-Linear Architecture’ journal ‘Viscosity,’ stating that the K Foundation had announced a 23-year moratorium on ‘all further activity’ following their burning of a million pounds in cash on the Isle of Jura.

In 1998, Italian art magazines such as ‘Tema Celeste’ and ‘Flesh Art’ begin reporting about the activities of Darko Maver, a hitherto unknown radical Serbian performance artist who has been disseminating hyper-realistic replicas of dismembered bodies in public spaces and hotel rooms across the former Yugoslavia. The magazines and a web site called ‘Free Art Campaign’ report that the artist has been arrested by the Serbian authorities for his performances, which are meant to offer a scathing meditation on the hyperreality and media representation of the Yugoslav Wars. In 1999, the Free Art Campaign announced that Maver has been found dead in a prison cell in Kosovo. In 2000, after alternative art spaces such as Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, Forte Prenestino in Rome, and major art venues such as the Venice Biennale dedicated retrospectives and paid tribute to the artist, the Luther Blissett Project, along with the newborn net art collective 0100101110101101.org, announce that Darko Maver is himself a work of art.

In 2007, a month before the appearance on the bookshelves of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,’ an email was sent to the Full Disclosure mailing list. In the e-mail, a self-declared group of Catholic hackers purportedly gave away the ending of the book, declaring they violated the computer systems of Bloomsbury (exclusive publisher of the Harry Potter books) to obtain it. The e-mail quoted Pope Benedict’s words against ‘Harry Potter.’ Three days after, Luther Blissett claimed responsibility for the hoax in a public email in which he described how easily the media could be manipulated and how this could be used for psyops purposes.

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