In 1994, a group of left-wing activists and artists from Bologna, Italy, banded together under an pseudonym in a scheme to wreak havoc in the worlds of art and media. With a five-year plan of hoaxes and pranks, these artists set out to create a symbolic folk hero that would attack the mainstream cultural world and the ‘society of the spectacle’ from the artistic standpoint. The name they chose as their nom-de-plume was Luther Blissett, taken from the Jamaican born British professional footballer who had joined A.C Milan from Watford F.C in 1983.
Due to their reluctance to do mainstream press, many have been baffled by the choice of name the group has subsumed under. At the time, there was a widespread vicious rumour, which is still speculated upon today, that A.C Milan had signed Blissett by mistake after confusing him for fellow Watford player John Barnes. This rumour most likely took shape after Blissett had a disappointing year at A.C compared to his season as the First Division’s top goalscorer while playing for Watford, and possibly the group adopted the name as an allusion to their similar misleading. Some have also stated that it may have been to do with the political climate in Italy at the time. Blissett was victim to systematic racial antagonising and choosing the name of a black public figure may have been a statement against the fascist sentiment in the country. Founding member Roberto Bui did say this to Word Magazine about their reasoning: "We needed the name of a person who'd been stupidly underestimated and misunderstood… to make a point about avenging the pariahs and the humble of history and pop culture".
A year after the emergence of illusory Luther Blissett, the name re-entered the public consciousness after taking responsibility for a media hoax in which he had an Italian state TV programme Chi l'ha visto? ("Has Anybody Seen Them?") send a crew to look for a fictitious British artist who had gone missing while cycling through Europe, spelling out the word ‘ART’ with his route. Blissett signed an explanation which exclaimed "Chi l'ha visto? is a Nazi-pop expression of the need for control". In the same year, several newspapers announce the exhibition of artworks by Loota, a liberated laboratory chimpanzee, at the Venice Biennale Art Fair. In 1997, Luther Blissett conducted a complex, year-long prank involving dozens of participants, to stir up mass hysteria about occult gatherings in central Italy. Local and national television broadcasted footage of a shoddily recorded ‘satanic ritual’ and politicians were quick to comment on the events without any fact-checking. Blissett’s ongoing railing against gullible media would involve numerous other deceptions before his expiry and rebirth as Wu Ming (‘Anonymous’ in Chinese) in 1999.
Though most active in Italy, Luther Blissett’s assumption grew in popularity with radical theorists throughout Europe and instances of his activity popped up as far as the North and South America. Blissett was responsible for literature criticising the Italian judiciary, raves on public transport, squatters collectives, two experimental music albums and most notably, Q, a 600-odd page historical novel about a medieval Christian who employs name changing and hoaxes while trying to evade a Catholic Church spy. Q has since been translated into over 10 languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies, it is a creative-commons licensed novel, meaning its non-commercial reproduction is completely legal. After the English translation was published in 2003 (originally published in 1999), the genuine Luther Blissett said:
"People were saying to me you should read it, but why? It's got nothing directly to do with me. Nobody asked my permission to use my name or anything like that. But what can I do about it? They get on with it and I observe from a distance."
Original Luther Blissett has acknowledged the movement on a number of occasions over the years, mostly expressing his frustration towards his namesake in early interviews but later warming to it. In 2004 he appeared on ITV’s Fantasy Football League with Frank Skinner for a sketch poking fun at the use of the pseudonym; he reads in Italian from the LB Project’s manifesto “Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name Luther Blissett”. More recently, Blissett has gone on record to say he has attempted to read Q and when asked about the activities of the assumees he said ‘I think they’ve done some brilliant things with [Luther Blissett]’.
It would have been interesting to hear his more detailed thoughts on the movement’s aims as a whole, however, he was understandably wary of the innumerable anarchists and his detachment from it has probably played to the strengths and growth of the abstract and fluid identity which is purposefully not to be associated with any one person or group. Instead, the name is used to subvert any notion of authorship whatsoever by making it irrelevant. The image of Luther Blissett used by the activists is not at all a likeness of their inspiration (see above), and apparently, none of those who chose the name were particularly into football at the time. The name is, unfortunately, as far as the connection goes, but at least it has proved to be useful to its bearers’ aims and extensive output and, coincidentally, Luther Blissett has gone down as a cult figure in football, in his own right.