Giap/digest # 35 - A Tribute to Piermario Ciani - 25 September 2006
As announced in the previous newsletter, we're celebrating our older brother Piermario Ciani (1951-2006), one of the founders of the Luther Blissett Project, as well as one of the most important (albeit invisible) artists - what an inadequate word - to ever come out of the Italian underground scene.
But first of all, please watch the video on the right.
You're going to see both Luther Blissett the multiple name and Luther Blissett the soccer player prominently featured @ "Fantasy Football League - Euro 2004", a British TV show on ITV, 29 June 2004. Duration: 07:25. To say the least, this clip demonstrates how we have impacted on popular culture in Britain. There's a moment in which Luther takes a book out of his pocket. It's a copy of Totò, Peppino e la guerra psichica, a Blissett anthology published in '96 by AAA (Piermario's own little publishing house), frontcover and layout designed by Piermario himself.
A TRIBUTE TO PIERMARIO CIANI
1. Farewell to Piermario - by Wu Ming, July 3, 2006
2. Comments on the funeral - by Wu Ming 1
3. Pier Ciani, the master of cultural guerrilla warfare - by Wu Ming 1, August 9, 2006
4. Mind Invaders & TRAX - An excerpt from Luther Blissett's book Mind Invaders, 1995
[All texts translated from the Italian by JDR]
A FEW MORE THINGS
1. Video. The Disney Trap: How Copyright Steals Our Stories
2. Video. Cary Grant's Style as Revealed by Valentin Spirik's Experimental Edit of His Girl Friday
FAREWELL TO PIERMARIO
July 3, 2006
We found out about it a few minutes ago, through a brief and desperate email from Vittore Baroni.
After months of struggle and treatment, last night an insidious illness cut short the hypersynaptic life of Piermario Ciani.
Piermario was a photographer, a graphic and mail artist, a privileged witness to the adventure of the Italian punk movement; front man of the virtual rock band Mind Invaders (later to become a multiple pseudonym); integral part of the Luther Blissett Project and, before then, of many other networking projects from which LB was inspired (especially TRAX, Stickerman). He was the creator of the Luther Blissett stickers that covered the walls of Italian cities during the last decade. He was one of the plotters behind the famous "Chi l'ha visto?" [Who's seen them?] TV show hoax of 1995 and also the various pranks that marked the Venice biennale of the same year (especially Loota, the monkey painter). He was founder (along with Vittore Baroni) of the AAA publishing house and the main organizer of the annual "Stazione Topolò-Postaja Topolove" festival.
Piermario was 55 years old. In 2000 he published a sort of autobiography/anthology/book-object called Piermario Ciani. Dal Great Complotto a Luther Blissett [Piermario Ciani – from the Great Conspiracy to Luther Blissett], published by AAA edizioni and Juliet Art Magazine. As a joke he came up with the alternative title: "My First Fifty years." Unfortunately, there will be no second fifty.
The book is an indispensable account of 25 years of the Italian underground. It describes the origins of what came after. Piermario's personal story illuminates an epic that extends from the local (the punk scene in Friuli) to the transnational (mail art, the Luther Blissett Project, the dawn of the internet etc). 250 pages of marvelous graphics and a sincere love for creativity.
We owe Piermario much, very much. His contribution has been priceless. What a hard blow - it leaves your lips tingling, almost numb and there's the regret for having seldom spoken with him in recent years. You always told yourself: "One of these days I'll call him…as soon as I get time I'll write…" You know he's not doing well, you ask about him, they tell you he's getting better, so you think: now I'll call him, but then something always pops up, and in the end when the news breaks your head spins and you feel like a shit, the lowest of the low.
You realize how much you loved him and you realize the sort of miracles a network can produce: you shared countless moments with a person you only met physically on a handful of occasions.
Piermario was – in the positive sense – a small patriarch, right up to his appearance that was like a kind of quiet, biblical father figure. Many lives sprung forth from his loins. He leaves behind a large family (to whom we offer these awkward condolences)…and an even larger family that covers the whole planet: in the next few weeks, as the news reaches them, thousands of artists and activists will fill their networks with their pain. With these words, we try to offer our sincere contribution.
COMMENTS ON PIER'S FUNERAL
July 7, 2006
[WM1:] At a funeral you feel a desire to talk about life, projects, things that come into being and people who are born. And a lethargy always creeps in. Maybe because the solemn, almost preconciliar [Old Catholic, before the 1960's reform] funereal rite with its Latin monodies - at times even archaic - takes us by surprise. A rite that's followed at the cemetery: with holy water and the aspergillum placed in front of the grave, for the whole town to wet and bless that wood down below and the earth around it, on the edge of this village in Friuli that you can only reach by hopping from one train to another – then traveling the last stretch on the bus from Codroipo (a placename that's also a curious anagram for "Porco dio", 'God is a hog').
Piermario didn't leave instructions, his family sent him off with the language that they knew best, the language of tradition, and they did and gave the best they could. Embarrassment is wrong and it's our problem – for those of us who arrive from more secular territory – and in a short while it subsides, because things take their course, they go the way they should, even though I make a mental note: "Leave instructions for when it's my turn." And while I'm on the thought, I touch my balls for good luck.
The padre's homily, they tell me, summarized articles that appeared in the local press, written by Piermario's friends. Good. On the way up, I had the funeral of journalist Gian Carlo Fusco in mind, where the priest kept calling him 'Gianfranco'. Here that could never happen, Piermario was known in the town: not as a networker or cultural saboteur (many found that out from the papers), but as the son of the former mayor and owner of the bread shop.
The grave. Thinking that he's inside there, my head's like a gas cylinder. And I can't bring myself to cry.
In the end people chat, they tell each other stories, they discuss what to do next: the archive, the newspapers, the boxes of books, the websites, the half finished projects. Shall we organize an event for Autumn? Let's talk about it when the mood is more stable. We say goodbye here, we share last embraces, we leave in dribs and drabs. Giorgio takes me to Udine. I catch the overnight Intercity train with Massimo Giacon who gets off at Padua. I carry on, across the great Padan plain, and I get to Bologna at 2am. Home.
In my backpack I have a cd. It contains the mp3 of the Radio Onde Friulane transmission, which went to air a little while before the funeral. Four different testimonials, all very different: there's a Piermario that corresponds to each of us – an intersection in the network that was his life.
Tomorrow I'll work on it and put it on-line. A first, small tribute to Trax 01, to Stickerman, to the producer of the Great Complotto, to who he was and who we were thanks to him.
But that's for tomorrow.
Let this day end.
PIER CIANI, THE MASTER OF CULTURAL GUERRILLA WARFARE
by Wu Ming 1, From L'Unità daily paper, August 9, 2006
I don't come to bury Piermario Ciani. It was already done a month ago. I come to praise him. This is not a "crocodile" [Italian slang for "pre-obit"]. No one expected that Pier, even if he was sick, would die so soon and none of his friends would've had the bad taste to keep an obituary at the ready.
I waited a few weeks before writing these words. I didn't know how to begin. Every reflection of mine, or inner journey, departed from Pier's computer and ended up returning there, among piles of magazines and heaps of materials. Straight after the funeral Emanuela, his girlfriend, proposed to those of us who'd come from far away to stay the night in Pier's studio-house, so as not to have to take the train or hit the road straight away. We declined the invitation. It was too soon to start disturbing the spirits. I know I would have not resisted the temptation, I would have spent the night without sleeping, rummaging through that random archive, discovering who knows what.
Creatures magnificent or monstrous, wild or ubertechnological, remain there hidden in the piles of papers, the ancient floppy discs, the cd-roms, the slides, the negatives, ready to jump out as soon as someone puts their hands in. Pier himself is among those creatures, first among equals, a democratic and affectionate creator. From the depth of 30 years creative work and cultural guerrilla warfare, he awaits without haste his 'reevaluation' and classification as a 'cult' artist.
One of contemporary Italy's most versatile graphic artists and inventors of signs – apart from one of the greatest 'connectors' between different scenes, movements, generations – he was able to be everywhere, to be whoever, to collaborate with everyone, without ever moving from Bertiolo, province of Udine. In the days after his death many writings appeared on-line. All of them began with the attempt 'to chart' his activity, to list all the cultural areas where he set foot, facilitating their evolution, changing them forever: Mail-artist, photographer, graphic artist, non-musician, punk rock band producer, architect of media pranks, propagator of myths, fanzine editor, publisher, organizer of exhibitions, founder of the Luther Blissett Project and so on like an obligatory haphazard catalogue.
Piermario Ciani (1951-2006) had written and published himself an automythobiographical volume, Piermario Ciani. Dal Great Complotto a Luther Blissett, (Piermario Ciani, From the Great Conspiracy to Luther Blissett, AAA, Bertiolo 2000). A book object with dust jacket flaps that could be cut and transformed into bookmarks, and pages that juxtaposed texts from various sources with distorted images. It skips from the years when Pier was photographing exponents of the Friuli punk underground (the scene of the so-called 'Great Complotto') up until the exploits of the multiuse pseudonym 'Luther Blissett' in the second half of the 1990s, passing through many projects in collaboration with and parallel to two other versatile artists and cultural operators, Vittore Baroni and Massimo Giacon: in 1980 the fictitious noise rock band Mind Invaders, that only existed in the reviews of the music press; in 1981 the transnational network called 'TRAX' whose participants called themselves TRAX 01, TRAX 02 etc, an idea reprised by my collective (you just have to see how this article is signed); for the whole of the 1980s and 1990s a very intense production of 'mail art', brochures, messages in bottles and stickers.
Above all the stickers, many of them, to be stuck in public and private places, bearing unexpected messages, koans, aphorisms, often produced in thematic series. Think of the 1992 series, 'Art is the beginning of something else,' in which the syllable 'Art' was emboldened at the head of semantically extraneous words: 'ARTiculation', 'ARTillery', 'ARTeriosclerosis'. Pier, Vittore et al. even manipulated the strings of a super hero marionette, Stickerman.
When Luther Blissett was born in 1994, Pier converged all his previous experiences into the project, transforming it into a great synthesis of Italian counterculture from 1977 onwards. Some of his projects that hadn't ever completely gotten off the ground were 'recycled' and put into a new context, and became the foundation for some memorable Blissett pranks. His post-Fluxus wit was the inspiration for a thousand stickers. In 1995, the walls of the biggest Italian cities were covered with stickers created by an open community but produced (all of them) in Pier's alchemist workshop in Bertiolo. Venice in particular was plastered with dual-directional arrows that indicated, in the name of Blissett, an arbitrary 'psychogeographical route'. Other road signs made in Bertiolo: 'Road open to every experience,' 'Road closed for hatred in progress' [the word hatred, "livore"– is similar to work, "lavoro" in Italian] etc. The pride of place in my heart goes to the sticker with the message: 'Luther Blissett accepts no ideological conflict, only practical solutions.' A teaching that doesn't ever enter into the head of the left, ever.
As a publisher, Pier threw caution to the wind: he had nothing to lose, maybe just a few million of the old lire, every so often. Together with Vittore he founded the AAA publishing house whose catalogue was without doubt the most bizarre in the history of ISBN. Next to precious texts on counterculture and underground art you'd find book objects like The Death of a Book by a certain Erica Moira Pini (decipher the anagram), with blank pages pierced by three bullets, or The Culture of Chaos by Mino Cancelli (a forced Italian translation of 'Bill Gates'), a simple rebinding of discarded pages found on a printing works floor.
In 2001 Pier had begun a new project, a magnificent and graceful synthesis of all previous syntheses: the FUNtastic United Nations, a mapping of imaginary countries, with their geographical lebensraum, bureaucracy, stamps etc.
Rereading these words, I realize that it makes little sense trying to force Pier's curriculum vitae into a 6-7000 line article. I've restricted myself to a brief glance over a production and a network of relationships that defies any summarization. I hope whoever reads all this feels stimulated, wants to find out more, tries to get a copy of Pier's autobiography and other AAA books.
As far as material we will unearth in the future, we'll put it into circulation in the world, during celebrations without end and other occasions of unconditional, generous giving, like a great potlatch gift ceremony. Every work will circulate with the planet, around its own particular equator, until only wear and tear will take if from the hands and eyes of the living. I say goodbye Piermario, with no crocodile tears. Mandi! ["Goodbye" in Friulan]
MIND INVADERS AND TRAX
An excerpt from Luther Blissett's book Mind Invaders. Manual of cultural guerrilla and sabotage, Castelvecchi, Rome, 1995
Luther Blissett was preceded by underrated, 'seminal' experiences that dealt with networking and the use of urban legends, one of which has inspired the title of the book you are now reading. Mind Invaders, Italy, the early Eighties. It involved a rock band that was no more real than the "mysterious new owners of the Charlestown Chiefs" [a citation from the movie Slapshot], a band whose publicity material was produced anonymously along with merchandising gadgets and fake interviews that were soon denounced as false by the 'interested parties' (this denunciation in turn was claimed as false, and its authors were called 'imposters', then the presumed imposters responded in turn etc). Here is an extract from a press release sent out from Udine on 31/5/1980, starting with the sentence: 'We have come into the possession of this vulgar lie that will soon be exposed':
|To satisfy the morbid curiosity of those who want to know about the genesis of the Mind Invaders, but especially to put an end to the rumors spread by those who believe the band was formed recently in the wake of other more famous musical groups, we bring to your attention the following: Already by 1976 Chris Lutman and Emoform were composing their first pieces, experimenting with the possibilities of a powerful infrasound generator built in the Laboratory of Physics – Iowa… In particular they composed the suite "Heartquake" that was performed in public on May 6 and September 15 of the same year…For those who would like to purchase the record "Music For Entertainment" we should point out that it can only be played using the special device produced by ALDO MANCUSO & Sons, which has two small heads that, with a pincer like hold, are able to read both sides of the disc at the same time…signed: ALDO MANCUSO.
And here is another press release, this time undated, preceded by the announcement 'The record and some cassettes to follow shortly.'
|In the Udine concert of 29 September 1979 at the Zanon auditorium (completely sold out) we went on stage with a machine of our own creation that produces sonic, tactile and olfactorious sensations which provoked an explosion of mutiny from the audience who left en masse. We consider this experiment to have not been a complete success given the homogenous nature of the response on the part of the audience which was reconfirmed…
Thanks to this series of tall stories and the support of some fanzines and real bands who cited them in interviews or inserted their names in the credits of their records, The Mind Invaders had their imaginary albums reviewed several times by magazines in the music press (above all Rockstar magazine, which at the time had a certain importance and reach). This also provoked complaints from other bands. For example, a certain band from Florence called Electric Eyes wrote the following in Red Ronnie's column on Rockstar:
|Dearest editor, I'd like to pose to you a question: do you not think that publishing the review of the Mind Invaders Album two times in a row in the column Rockers steals space away from all the other groups (among them my own) that write to you hoping for a mention?... Fuck you!
It is said that behind the Mind invaders there were some Italian mail-artists and in particular Piermario Ciani, personal friend of that Harry Kipper who at the time used the pseudonym 'Luther Blissett'. If by chance you have Slapshot on video (and if you're observant) you'll discover that, during a tracking shot on the crowd at the championship final, written clearly in red on a girl's t-shirt is 'MIND INVADERS.' The penny drops. Get used to this elliptic and digressing trail.
The surfing begins and the last click in this chapter brings us to TRAX, a condividual that materialized in the Mail Art Network of 1981, whose precious texts were widely plundered, plagiarized and revisited by Luther Blissett in many posters, flyers, editorials and whose 'modular' system of dissemination worked to spread what Luther had collected. For six long years in the 80s TRAX was
| a mysterious figure wandering through the 'youth' media landscape: an international conspiracy, an impersonal system, an autonomous and independent network. Many points of reference exist, but the empty spaces are more important…TRAX adapts itself, only partly, to whatever type of reality: electronic experimentation, 'industrial' music, Mail Art, Copy Art, visual and audio poetry, cut-up, performance etc. TRAX shatters the formal expectations of the record, of the cassette, of the magazine or of the graphic work, creating a series of works in progress that are disassemblable and reassemblable according to the user's taste…"(AA. VV. LAST TRAX - Final Report of the Trax Project, book+record self produced by Piermario Ciani, Vittore Baroni and Massimo Giacon).
TRAX (grooves, furrows – or, in reverse "X-Art", prohibited art) sought to produce as much as possible, involving the largest number of people possible, parodying multinationals in terms of the production models. In practice, TRAX was a type of label with which anyone could sign their own works. Whoever adhered to the project became a TRAX unit, marked by the name of the project plus a number that indicated only the chronological order of membership (e.g. "Piermario Ciani - TRAX 01; "Vittore Baroni"- TRAX 02... Shozo Shimamoto - TRAX 0383..."etc.). The project allowed for interchangeable operative roles: the Central Units were the ones that organized and produced a given "module" (that is an event, a series, a certain offshoot of the project), and the Peripheric Units were all the other participants. From June 1981 to June 1987 there were about 500 people operating as Peripheric Units from around 30 different nations and ten Central Units. Among the media involved in Italy were the comic magazines Frizzer, Frigidaire and Tempi supplementari and in 1985-6 they published installments of the comic "TRAXMAN" (text by TRAX 02, pictures by TRAX 03). The modules were performances, concerts, records, cassettes, cartoons, stories, poems, films, video installations, t-shirts, postcards etc. The end of the project was planned for 1987 and was made official with these words from TRAX 02:
| TRAX proposed an operating model, it gave an example, but it prefers to disband before the game transforms itself into a sterile repetition of gestures. A new departure from the norm is needed, now that the capabilities of the various underground networks has been experienced. These parallel universes, whose very existence is often not even suspected, will be able to intersect and project themselves increasingly towards the outside, towards millions of people potentially interested in repairing, in an evolutionary sense, the divide between science and creativity…(LAST TRAX).
It's needless restating the importance of TRAX, you only have to think that all of that happened in the first half of the Eighties. TRAX was ahead of its time, playing with franchising when it was still unclear what the scope of the industrial restructuring that was dismantling the Fordist-Taylorist model would be, and when a VIC 20 or a Commodore 64 were the most tangible examples of the 'third revolution' that a child could experience. A triple 'hooray' for TRAX!
THE DISNEY TRAP: HOW COPYRIGHT STEALS OUR STORIES
This video was written and realized by Monica Mazzitelli, member of the Wu Ming Foundation's reading group iQuindici [TheFifteen], whose mission is to read as-yet-unpublished novels and short-stories -- in order to give feedback to their authors, as well as to promote the adoption of open licenses (CC, GFDL, Copyleft etc.) in the Italian publishing industry. The Disney Trap was presented at this symposium in Stockholm two weeks ago.
You can either watch it or download it here.
Beware: Real player plugin needed. Too long for YouTube, no time to convert it to other formats.
As a further contribution to the comprehension of Cary Grant's style (which we investigated in our novel 54), we uploaded on YouTube an interesting video experiment by Valentin Spirik (right)
Spirik took the 1940 movie His Girl Friday (with Cary and Rosalind Russell) and cut out all the dialogue, leaving only gestures, actions, and movements. As a result, we've got eight minutes of pure body language, facial expressions, coordinated moves, and passages from one space to the next.
Once put the emphasis on the kinetic element of Cary's acting, which in 1940 was still a little over the top, we can see that he already leaned forward to that "subtle, controlled and stylized performance" (Barbara Grespi) which is typical of the latest phase of his career.
In this movie, "transparency" and the "invisibility of the artifice" still have to contend for primacy with a few frills left from Cary's circus upbringing, however, these are already the values he's fighting for, we can see him working on them -- literally -- between the lines.
As to Rosalind Russell, she's simply astounding.
You can download the whole movie here.