Luther Blissett and the Disappearance of the Author
A nomadic and anonymous collective shook the notion of authorship with one of the most interesting artistic experiments of the last decades.
In 1994, under the manifold pseudonym of Luther Blissett, an unknown number of artists from Europe and North America (mainly of Bolognese origins) gathered to artistically sabotage the media. The group is a direct relative of Neo-Luddism —its possible historical precedent—, except for the fact that the Luther Blissett project attacks from the field of art.
Luther Blissett’s actions extended throughout Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom more than in other countries in Europe. However, Italy came to be their main and most important stage. They began by broadcasting fake news, such as the disappearance of an English artist (Harry Kipper, a performer mentioned in the punk historiography of the 1970s, and also a plausible fictional founder of the collective), who had vanished while riding a bicycle on the border between Italy and former Yugoslavia while trying to trace the word ART on the map. It was a fiasco; meaning, a complete success for this polymorphic ghost. And so they began.
Another relevant act was that of Loota, an abused chimpanzee that after being rescued by a brigade of animal rights defenders became a great painter. They announced an exhibition featuring the primate’s work at the Contemporary Art Venice Biennale; a body of work which was actually entirely painted by humans. The chimp didn’t exist, and if she did, she didn’t paint. They also stole one of the 17th century sacred statues from the Lacio area, and asked for a ransom of sorts, an exuberant amount of money to be given to the poor people of the area. Wonderful.
But their real relevance and impact, the most important aspect of the Luther Blissett pseudonym, is their historical novel Q, published in March 1999 by Einaudi. It was written by three Bolognese artists that declared they were the 0.04% of the Luther Blissett Project. That same year, apropos of the novel, the project decided to commit collective and symbolical suicide by practicing the ritual of seppuku, a traditional Japanese death ritual. Wu Ming, what we could call the second part of the project, was born at that moment. Its foundations (if any), were not very different from Blissett’s, except that they carefully adapted their actions to the age we are now living in (one must keep in mind that the LBP began when the informatics era was barely in diapers, at least on a massive scale).
It is worth mentioning that the Luther Blissett pseudonym can be used by anybody, anywhere, at any time. This diverts the political discourse elsewhere: it questions the notion of the author and of the political subject. The Luther Blissett subversion does not consist of forming a guild or one more collective among the rest, but in eliminating the very notion of authorship, of univocal authorship of a piece of art —one of foundations of artistic creation since the Renaissance.
Luther Bissett is to art what Spartacus was at some point to Ancient Greece: a name that on its own had the strength to incarnate an idea and a movement. The multiplicity of a single name cancels out identity as the founding notion of the subject. Also, they use the name of an existing person, a person who is public and who is black, in an Italy full of fascist reminiscences. But beyond a break with the individual, they neutralize the notion of copyrights by using copyleft.
The truth, as they say, is less interesting than fiction: Luther Blissett was an English football player of Jamaican origin that arrived during the Calcio season of 1983-1984, specifically to the AC Milan, one of the most important Italian football clubs. And even though he suffered systematic racial attacks, Luther Blisset would eventually receive one of the most important tributes in the last literary decades.
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