The Way of the Guerrilla

Written by Nora Sophie on . Posted in Détournement

The Luther Blissett Project

luther-blissettIn the mid-nineties, hundreds of European artists and social activists formed a collective called Luther Blissett, an identity they all adopted and shared. With radical ideas and strong attitudes, they set out to stir up the cultural industry and create a legend that would become some kind of a new folk hero. It was a Five Year Plan, in which they wanted to tell the world a great story.

In the summer of 1994 the Luther Blissett identity became a phenomenon in Italy, they called themselves the Luther Blissett Project and operated for all of the five years the Luther Blissett identity lived. They ran unconventional solidarity campaigns for victims of censorship and repression and declared a war with the restrictions facing the cultural industry, but they were most known for their elaborate media pranks they played as a form of art. They would always claim responsibility for their actions and explain what they did to acquire the information necessary and how they managed to actually pull the prank off. After the aspired five years were over, the members of the Luther Blissett Project committed a symbolic seppuku, the samurai ritual suicide.

The end of the Luther Blissett Project did not entail the end of the name though, which keeps re-emerging in the cultural debate and is still a popular byline on the internet. There was a group called 0100101110101101.org formed by the Italians Eva and Franco Mattes that debuted shortly after the Project’s dissolution, and in January 2000, some of the veteran Luther Blissett members regrouped as the Wu Ming Foundation, a project that focuses more on storytelling via literature, with the same radical panache as before in the nineties.

tumblr_lmvybmF7jy1qdzw03o1_400The name Luther Blissett was borrowed from a British soccer player of Afro-Caribbean origins who was the first black football player in Italy. The face supposedly belonging to Luther Blissett was actually created by two Italians, Andrea Alberti and Edi Bianco, in 1994, by morphing old 1930’s and 1940’s portraits of Wu Ming 1’s great-uncles.

The Open Pop Star

The end of the Five Year Plan was celebrated with the release of the CD Luther Blissett: The Open Pop Star, a compilation of weird electronic music with mysterious voices and intense cuts, among the contributing artists was the famously strange Japanese noise-master Merzbow.

 


The Open Pop Star

While the Luther Blissett Project acted mostly in Italy, they did venture into other European countries as well, namely Spain and Germany.

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A rare Polaroid-photo of the Luther Blissett Project, Bologna, 1997

“Homeopathic counter-information” is what Luther Blissett’s strategy pursues: by injecting the media with false stories, they showed the unprofessionality of reporters and the groundlessness of moral panic. They interlaced their media hoaxes with imaginary artists, highlighting how gullible and phony the art world is.

Best pranks and actions of the Luther Blissett:

One of the most famous pranks is the apparent disappearance of the British conceptual artist Harry Kipper who went missing on the Italian-Yugoslavian border in January of 1995 while touring Europe on a mountain bike, allegedly with the purpose of tracing the word ‘ART’ over the continent. The coup was aimed at a famous missing persons prime time show on Italian state TV, who did sent out a crew to go look for Harry Kipper, a person that never existed, squandering taxpayers’ money and all in all making fools of themselves until Luther Blissett claimed the news one of their hoaxes.

In June of 1995, Luther Blissett circulated the fictitious story of a female chimpanzee named Loota, who, after being rescued from a sadistic experimental pharmaceutical lab, had become a well-respected artist whose paintings were going to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Arts. The story was covered by various media outlets all over Europe.

Over the course of 1998 and 1999, Luther Blissett fed the art world with stories about a controversial Serbian sculptor and performance artist, Darko Maver, who makes life-sized pieces looking like brutalized, bloody corpses, which seemingly led the state to censor his art and imprison him for anti-social conduct. His work was displayed in Bologna and Rome and prestigious art magazines published a solidarity appeal, while some respected critics claimed to personally know the artist, who eventually died in confinement during a NATO bombing following pictures of the body to appear on the internet. The truth was uncovered only after the seppuku-end of the Luther Blissett Project in 1999. The alleged work of Darko Maver were pictures of actual corpses, and his supposed dead body was simply a photo of a Sicilian member of the Luther Blissett Project.

 

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  • Darko Maver's alleged work showed gruesomely realistic puppets of murder victims
  • The dummies were strategically placed in in abandoned buildings and hotel rooms in the former Yugoslavia
  • The work of Darko Maver was forbidden due to its displayed brutality
  • Darko Maver died in April 1999 in the Podgorica prison during the NATO bombing. The photo of his death, that circulated widely on the media, was actually taken in an attic in the center of Bologna by the Luther Blissett Project.

In 1997, Luther Blissett played a prank in Latium, Italy, that lasted the whole year by fueling stories about Christian witch-hunters, black masses and Satanism in the backwoods of Viterbo, which was highly reported on by the local and national media as well as politicians who engaged in the mass paranoia. Nobody was fact-checking, and fake video footage of a satanic ritual was broadcast on TV, until Luther Blissett claimed responsibility for everything providing evidence. This particular hoax was praised and analyzed by media experts.

The final contribution to the Luther Blissett Project was the novel Q, which was written by the four members and published in Italy in 1999, later being translated into ten more languages and helping the group to achieve worldwide fame. The novel is set in 16th century Europe during the peasant riots leading to a bloody repression approved by Martin Luther.

Watch a video by Stewart Home about Luther Blissett

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