From Word Magazine, UK, April 2003:
It's A Funny Old Game
Conspiracy. Footballer LUTHER BLISSETT (Watford FC and AC Milan)
has become a hero to Italian anarchists. Why?
In early 1995 the Italian media was gripped by the disappearance of a British artist. harry Kipper had been cycling round the north of the country, his route tracing out the word 'ART'. Weekly TV show Chi l'ha visto? ("Has Anybody Seen Them?") departed from its usual diet of missing children, fugitive spouses and draft dodgers to follow Kipper's case. On the eve of broadcast, the programme-makers found they'd been duped - but not before newspapers had been alerted to the hoax. Kipper was the creation of anonymous, Bologna-based art-anarchists who explained their motivation thus: "Chi l'ha visto? is a Nazi-pop expression of the need for control". The statement was signed 'Luther Blissett'.
Was this the Luther Blissett, the former Watford striker who infamously lost his goalscoring touch while enduring terrace racism during one season for AC Milan in 1982? Of course not. "We needed the name of a person who'd been stupidly underestimated and misunderstood", says one of the original Bologna gang of four (maintaining their anonymity, he refers to himself only as 'Wu Ming 1'). "We wanted to make a point about avenging the pariahs and the humble of history and pop culture, something similar to Tim Burton's work on Ed Wood."
Following a five-year plan, the group known as 'Luther Blissett' pulled off a number or stunts. They conned the Italian mass media with stories of art made by chimpanzees. They were behind rumours implicating a respected priest in a child sex ring. The world of fashion was faced with stories of Naomi Campbell's 'cellulite problem'. The Blissett group became a kind of Chris Morris in this most conservative of countries - only more politicised. In 1997, four men were tried in Rome for riding the tram without tickets: in court, all called themselves Luther Blissett [it never happened, wm.n.]. Following the idea of 'multiple identity', it was declared that anyone was free to use the name. 'Luther Blissett' became active across Europe. The real Luther Blissett, meanwhile, became weary of the confusion. "I am not pleased but what can you do?", he remarked in 1999 (Blissett did not respond to the messages Word left on his mobile).
Next month sees the UK publication of a novel by his namesake: Q is an elaborate 635-page saga of holy war and espionage set in Renaissance Europe. While rumoured to be the work of Umberto Eco ("Absolutely not", says Wu Ming 1. "We've never met the old wanker"), Q was written collectively by the Bologna quartet. It's about "experiments in communalism, popular wars and rebellions and the first attempt at class revolution", Wu Ming 1 told me. It's quite another side to the group who once compiled an electronica CD, Luther Blissett: The Open Pop Star, featuring contributions from assorted Luther Blissetts worldwide.
'Luther Blissett' is now defunct - the group abandoned the named in December 1999 and adopted the collective epithet Wu Ming: 'No Name'. Now that they're successful authors - they've written three further novels, run wumingfoundation.com and compile an electronic newsletter - everyone in Italy knows their real names anyway. They were outed by La Repubblica in early 1999, when Q was originally published (it has since sold 100,000 copies in continental Europe) [Not quite: over 200,000 copies in Italy, several tens of thousands in Europe, wm.n.]. The newspapers named the authors as Federico Guglielmi, Luca Di Meo, Giovanni Cattabriga and Fabrizio Belletati. But how did four people write one book? "We cross-fertilised our radical free jazz attitude with a samurai-styled self-discipline," explains Wu Ming 1. And he might be serious.