THE RALPH RUMNEY'S REVENGE AND OTHER SCAMS
An account on the psychogeographical warfare in Venice
during the 1995 Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Arts
by Luther Blissett
0. WHY VENICE?
Venice is a ghost-town, and there is no longer any moonshine to kill, either. From the Fifties the native population has been reduced to a half by an increasing commodification and an advance in the cost of living which remodelled and standardised the town at tourists disposal and sentenced many Venetians to deportation to the inland. Those who remained became "walk-ons" in a never ending show, without even being paid. Out of season, the calli (characteristical narrow streets) are empty and nights are sad and desolating. There are also serious problems of pollution, and the town runs the risk of gradually sinking into the sea owing to the building of a methane pipe-line in the gulf.
The mayor Massimo Cacciari is a heideggerian, former marxist, philosopher member of the Left Democratic Party (i.e. the lib-lab heir of the former communist party), and is just one of those opinion-leaders who run with the hare and hunt with the hounds: on one hand they pretend to disagree on the conversion of Venice into a gigantic museum and engage to "revivify" its life by organising international conventions, exhibitions, trade-fairs and other spectacular mega-events; on the other they fake a safeguarding point of view when the opposition movements demand a REAL, uncommoditized revivification.
Politicians mainly are demagogues: they lament the decadence of the town only to justify their scream "Owners of all lands, unite and invest money in Venice!" and sell municipal properties to the bosses of the multinationals. I quote from a release which the squatters of the centro sociale autogestito "Morion" put into the European Counter Network on January 30th 1995:
"[...] The junta of the commune led by Cacciari has an idea of town which is completely different from ours. The Stucky mill, since 1955 one of the symbols of the "Empty Venice", belongs to the Caltagirone brothers, well-known housing usurers. By mutual consent, the Commune and the Caltagirones have planned to invest 200 billion lire in building a luxury hotel, a residence, a big store, a congress hall and 200 new flats to sell at 5 millions per square metre. The Malibran theatre, which was closed 15 years ago, has been occupied during the1993 Countercarnival by people who wanted to convert it into a theatrical and musical lab. The police vacated the squat a few days later, and 15 comrades from the C.S.A. Morion are in trial for the occupation. The building belongs to the Commune, which invested hundreds of millions to repair the roof, opened a pompous exhibition on Totò and now wants to use the place as the seat of the mainstream company Teatro La Fenice. Not to mention all the rest: another Casino in the Italgas area or at the Marittima, the empty Manin barracks at the Gesuiti assigned to the CNR (1) and the exhortation to the finance to invest money in Venice. The mayor proposed the New York-based Chased Manhattan Bank - which played a major role in starving the Indios of Chiapas - for the management of the next tourist terminals in Fusina, Tessera and Punta Sabbioni[...] "
In the meanwhile, hordes of Japanese tourists crowd the berths of the gondolas and pay through the nose to listen gondoliers singing false traditional songs in pidgin Neapolitan (2).
No point explaining the causes which led Luther Blissett to declare a psychogeographical war on/in Venice. It seems that this town cannot help providing ever new points for radical criticism. Since Futurism (see the Marinetti's statement "Let's kill the moonshine") this town has been such a good target of the avantgarde assaults, that it has been compelled to recuperate criticism by admitting the Avant-garde, even the most truculent Performance Art, in the former traditionalistic international Biennial of Contemporary Arts.
Every second year since 1895, the town mingles with the Biennial, and the latter reflects the history of the former. Last summer the general manager Jean Clair behaved just like the mayor Cacciari. In fact, the disputed suppression of "APERTO" (i.e. the pavilion which contained installations by younger and more radical artists) aimed at focusing the attention on a few 'big names' with friends in high places, in order to set up a more market-oriented kermesse. And what is more, this Centenary edition was named "Identity and alterity", and came to a reactionary celebration of portraits as well as to an attempted re-establishment of representative art. Jean Clair even commemorated the invention of identity cards! How could Luther Blissett, a multiple name and an "open context" challenging the bourgeois notion of identity, not to come into the psychogeographical war during the vérnissages of an exhibition with such a name?
As it is impossible to tell the town from the exhibition, it is as much impossible to clearly distinguish between psychogeography and anti-art agitation in the actions I am going to report. In the case of Loota "the art monkey", anti-art even comes together with the struggle for animal liberation.
The article below is from the national communist newspaper "Il Manifesto", Saturday 10 June:
"JUNK-ART, MACABRE OBSESSIONS AND TV SMITHEREENS: IT'S THE BLOB OF THE GIARDINI, WHERE YOU CAN EVEN SIGHT THE PIRATE BLISSETT WANDERING ABOUT"
by Arianna di Genova
[...] Have you visited Venice together with Luther Blissett, the tribe which gave up identity to adopt a pseudonym and put this signature on piratical actions and metropolitan legends? If you haven't yet, this evening the meeting place is the Foresteria Valdese, in Calle Longa di S.Maria Formosa, where you will admire the wonderful paintings by Loota, the art monkey. The official flyer has been delivered at the Giardini. You will see a likeable chimpanzee that holds brushes and makes amusing pictures. Go and find out whether this is true or false. Maybe you will forget for a while that president Scalfaro and Lady Diana landed at the lagoon today. In the meanwhile, some let themselves lead in the narrow streets of the town 'til daybreak. The drunk survivors of the last parties go adrift in opposite directions showing tickets for "a seat on the front-row of the Apocalypse", i.e. the only identification mark of those who are following Luther Blissett. Last night the police upset their plans by stopping the rehearsal of the Situationautic Theatre in front of the RAI building. The performance should have been named "Two dickheads and a rubber duck", but the cops cleared the square [...] Finally, those who did not lose their curiosity about the subject of Body and Face can gaze at the "Virtual Self-portraits" installation by Blissett at the Enpleinair Gallery. One can become Jim Morrison or, better still, Marlene Dietrich or even Luther [...]"
2. THE RALPH RUMNEY'S REVENGE
One night, during the first week of the Biannual, Luther covered with hundreds of psychogeographical stickers the walls of the whole town (with the exception of the Isle of Giudecca). These stickers were red 30-cmt-long stripes with a white bi-directional arrow and the green inscription :
"LUTHER BLISSETT - PSYCHOGEOGRAPHICAL WAY - JUNE-SEPTEMBER 1995: A GREAT PERFORMANCE"
(this was the only action in which the name of Blissett showed off since its start).
Venice is a big footway which is fit for labyrinthical drifts, and a bi-directional arrow does not lead to a destination but suggests to think over the notion of dérive. On June 7th and 8th, at dead of night, Blissett harangued the last drunk patrons in taverns and clubs and exhorted them to gather in parties and follow the arrows on casual ways. This was the so-called "Rendez-vous with nobody": how many hours must pass before I can meet another Luther strolling along the calli by aleatory detours? And where shall I met them?
And how shall I recognise them? As an answer to the third question, Luther handed out visiting cards with the Blissett's androgynous face and the caption "This ticket is valid for a seat on the front-row of the apocalypse". It was also a way of stating that the decline of the West must end where its rise began, that is in Venice, an ancient maritime republic which played a major role in the preliminary commodification of eastern societies and paved the way for their colonisation. These dérives owed their name ("The Ralph Rumney's revenge") to the expulsion of the well-known English psychogeographer from the Situationist International in 1958, soon after he had done a dérive in the calli. The only 'revenger' I personally met during my drift was a dead-drunk pregnant Scottish woman; it was 4 a.m. in the morning, we were both tired and I didn't understand her grumbled English. I was at a loss for a moment and felt myself heavy with centuries of bourgeois civilisation.
3. LOOTA THE PAINTER
In another semblance, that of a handsome young man, Luther went to the Giardini di Castello and handed out folders to art critics and upper-class guests. The folders were printed on expensive coated board and flared the headline "LOOTA - THE ARTMONKEY". Two awful scribblings and the trademark logo "LB - Liberty for the Beasts" filled up the front-page. On the back there was the following text:
"In 1985 the Animal Liberation Front broke into the University of Pennsylvania laboratory where dr. Thomas Gennarelli had conduced for over 15 years useless experiments on cercopithecuses and other primates, causing them cranial traumas. Such tortures were a complete waste of money, for which the U.S. Health Office used to extort one million dollars a year from the taxpayers. The ALF stole the renowned 'Gennarelli Tapes' and showed them to the world. The experiments were stopped by the government since the scientists failed to prove their usefulness. Some chipanzees including Loota were bought by Ronald Cohn's Gorilla Foundation. Loota revealed himself to have a Q.I. 80 (approximately that of Forrest Gump) and was started in painting. One year after his death, The Hans Ruesch Foundation (via Motta 51, box 152, 6900 Massagno, Switzerland) is proud to exhibit the paintings, to make everybody understand how much cleverness and delicacy are annihilated every day in the slaughterhouses of the science counterfeiters. Had the Loota's head been crashed, today we could not see these little treasures".
Inside, an unexisting Andreas Ruesch from Lugano appeared as the author of a tangled, raving exegesis of the Loota's artworks; I quote some excerpts below:
"[...] Loota represents nature as an archetypal world which counterbalances the intrusive, painful memory of the experience to which humans constrained him. I like to think that those thin blue lines wandering on the canvas and changing tonality (picture no.16) are the outline of a mountain range. Perhaps that blot is an island (but has Loota ever seen an island, or is the idea of "Island" part of the genetic heritage of his species?) on which there are memories of sole shining pebbles. In spite of the fearful adventure lived by him, Loota's is a strange secret alchemy arousing sympathy, faith and optimism towards and against everything [...]"
"[...] And what can I say about the double purple marks repeated and staggered in dark red (picture no.4) on the ochreous background resulted from the use of Loota's downy nates as a brush? All this can recall the late Kandinsky!"[...]
The folder had also been sent to many critics and faxed to the local and national newspapers. All the readers were invited to the inauguration, h. 6 pm of saturday 10th July at the Foresteria Valdese [Waldensian Guestrooms], Calle Longa di S. Maria Formosa, castello 5179, Venice.
What was the matter?
Luther Blissett had linked true stories together in such a way as to create a canard. The inrush by the ALF, the Gennarelli experiments, the Gorilla Foundation and the antivivisectionist activity of the Hans Ruesch Foundation were all real things and events, but the truth was just the background against which the legend of Loota could take place.
Loota did not exist, but a few months before there had been international press coverage on some monkey paintings sold dear at an exhibition in Vienna, so many people had heard of an ape painter and would easily think Loota was the same artist. Actually, "Loota" was just a corruption of "Luther".
The local papers gave notice of the exhibition. In the fixed day and hour, the visitors to the Foresteria found only a double-headed leaflet: on the front there was the photo of a banana whose Chiquita logo had been replaced by the Luther's face; on the back there was the following text:
HERE IS A PICTURE
of the situation: pharmaceutics industry kills. They kill us while they are pretending to cure us. Not only the medicines they produce are almost always useless and often prejudicial, they even test their products on people and animals, by their consent (this concerns the human being, though "consent" is largely a deception since we are subjected to an everyday ideological bombing) or not (this regards the animal, regarded as a stupid thing which can be sacrificed for the reason of Science). To face this situation, it is inadequate and ridiculous to claim the "animal rights", i.e. a phrase which belongs to liberal ideology: it is absurd to pose as pseudo-juridical tutors of the animals, or even to anthropomorphise them. Instead, the dictatorship of medicine and the Iatrolatry have to be assaulted in different ways: it is necessary to give up any simplistic attitude or back-to-nature romantics to denounce the s-c-i-e-n-t-i-f-i-c fallacy of the tests on animals and defeat any anthropocentricism without being accused to "love animals more than human beings" and all similar bullshit. The organic, anatomical, biological, metabolical, genetic and psychological differences between mankind and all the other species are obvious and clear, anyone who is not hired by the lobbying stockbreeders may admit that NO PHARMACOLOGICAL OR GENETIC TEST IS RELIABLE. Any illness artificially provoked by unnatural, intrusive means has not the same effects as an illness 'spontaneously' arising from inside the organism or provoked by a polluted everyday relationship between organism and environment. IT'S BY THESE REASONINGS THAT WE CAN CHALLENGE THE VIVISECTIONISTS, NOT BY STRESSING THAT TO KILL A MACACO OR A MANDRILL IS TO DEPRIVE THE WORLD OF A POTENTIAL ARTIST!
While an ape is rousing interest on her/his paintings, how many others are massacred in the labs and you don't give a fuck about them? Influential, self-styled animal liberation thinkers like the Australian Peter Singer and his American fellow Tom Regan use to apply only to moral argumentations, thereby giving up any scientific evidence. Obviously they don't even manage to win the moral debate, and create a disinformed opinion, i.e. people who are ready to visit an exhibition of monkey paintings but are not available to responsibly commit themselves in the struggle against iatrolatry. On the other hand, vivisectors grasped that if they restrict the debate to moral opinions, then their scientific deception can endure. They will always put in a critical position the naives who don't know how to reply to such bullshit as: "My ethics is aimed to save human lives, yours is aimed to save the dogs!".
LOOTA IS JUST A PRODUCT OF MY IMAGINATION, THERE IS NO PAINTING HERE. HANS RUESCH IS IN THE DARK ABOUT THIS ACTION, I'VE JUST MADE USE OF HIS ADDRESS AS A DISGUISE, FOR HE'S A NOTORIOUS ANTIVIVISECTIONIST AS WELL AS ONE OF THE FEW YOU CAN TRUST.
Now you may fight vivisection and all the other abuses of medicine power: you don't need any 'art monkey' to do it!
LUTHER BLISSETT, the animal liberation anti-artist.
Some journalists stood aghast, incapable of deciding what to write.(3)
A little child, whose parents had read the advert on some local newspaper, began to cry once he realised there was no monkey. As a matter of fact, the papers had not published a key detail of the Loota's story: his death. The father, who had taken his baby to the exhibition more to see the monkey than to admire the paintings, gave me three or four unrepeatable epithets and took the baby away. He didn't give a damn about art or the Biennial, maybe he was the only decent fellow in Venice.
4. VIRTUAL SELF-PORTRAITS
Luther has the gift of ubiquity. While s/he was delivering the Loota flyer at the Giardini di Castello and at the Lido (Palagalileo), s/he also spread invitation cards for the showing installation "Virtual self-portraits", representing several faces of famous artists and bearing the following text:
Interactive video installation
Inauguration: Friday 9 June h. 6 pm
Clairvoyants foresee the future in their polished crystal spheres. Since remote ages, the shamans of the Berber tribes reach states of deep meditation simply by gazing at their own reflected image. According to many archaic cultures, a portrait imprisons part of the spirit of the represented person, thereby it is forbidden, feared or held in utmost respect. The origins of self-portraits melt into mystery and myth: the propitiatory shapes of huntsmen in Altamira, Narcissus fond of his own image, and so on. The process and the medium of human sensorial perception are not only conditioned by natural laws, but also by history. In literary fiction, it is the picture of Dorian Gray which decays with age instead of Gray himself. According to Duchamp, paintings die after a lapse of time in the same way of their authors, then they are placed in cemeteries, i.e. in the history of art. These Virtual Self-Portraits suggest a shrewd game of open contradictions - anonymous/universal, unique/manifold, ephemeral/persistent, immanent/transcendent, plagiarism/originality, artist/consumer etc. - set in the concrete space of an (un)usual figurative art which constantly escapes itself. If someone stares a well definite image for a couple of minutes, the retina will retain an imprint of its outline; should the eyes be turned on a white surface, a clear mental projection shall appear. This installation takes afterimages as a starting point for manipulating projections of "self-portraits" and smiles, in order to provoke innermost questions and perceptible woes which belong to the contemporary subject. If it's true that the mental process is the only representative art of our age, for it is the supercession of monomedia parameters, then this installation may be compared to the cake which Carroll's Alice had to deal out before the cutting. Only the real negation of the self-portrait can retain its sense.
Enpleinair Gallery, Venice - Calle Longa di S. Maria Formosa, Castello 5177 - June 9th-July 30th 1995"
You see, the piece above alluded to virtual reality, but there was no explicit statement, so that tourists would be attracted to the hi-tech showing booth. When somebody asked me what the installation would consist in, I described a sort of digital mirror controlled by a computer, in which one can look at him/herself and see his/her own face turning into that of an artist chosen among the ones represented on the invitation card. The Enpleinair Gallery did not exist: the name means "open air", in fact it was a normal court-yard. The installation has been far better than a house of wax, better than television or holographic, more than any other reproduction of reality: our doubles did move at our mercy, and nothing could be so close to reality... In fact, the visitors were confronted with a mere mirror which reflected... virtual self-portraits of Luther Blissett, i.e. of anyone who looked in it. When one moved away, the portrait vanished. Go ahead, cretin, there is room for all! This is the text of the leaflet which vindicated the prank by listing the artists whose portrait was on the card:
The LUTHER BLISSETT project is open to all: anyone can look in the mirror and see LUTHER BLISSETT. The passers-by are LUTHER BLISSETT, everyone is LUTHER BLISSETT: my father, the Pope, Liala, Pasolini, Eluard, Fortunato Depero, Bui, Frank Zappa, Guy Debord, Kurt Schwitters, Oscar Wilde,Baader, Ray Johnson, Marlene Dietrich,Kerouac, Einstein, Man Ray, Mayakovsky, Pinot Gallizio, Duchamp, Harry Kipper, Keith Haring, Valentino, Fellini, Artaud, Che Guevara, Alberto Rizzi, Marilyn, Lennon, Piermario Ciani, Moana... Even if you don't realise it, YOU are part of the LUTHER BLISSETT project. When you see the LUTHER BLISSETT's face you see yourself. This is the only VIRTUAL SELF-PORTRAIT which has to interest you!
ALLEANZA NEOISTA, Venice, June 1995.
The performances by the Luther Blissett Situationautic Theatre (a Bologna-based formation founded by the transmaniac Riccardo Paccosi, which aims to amalgamate dérive, street theatre and body art) were prevented by the coming of the cops. Another action did not succeed: Luther would have to pretend to be a fan of lady Diana, make a foray in the hotel where she was lodging and give her attendants a bunch of flowers with a perfumed closed envelope. The envelope did not contain a greeting card: it contained anti-royal material by the London Psychogeographical Association. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get near the attendants: there were too many policemen, too many barriers and picket lines. However, the psychogeographical warfare was successful: if it's true that Venice is the 'city of the spectacle', then we must gear up and short-circuit the spectacle, in order to mirror back to the city an awful image of itself. The real wretchedness of everyday life in Venice forces radicals to be equal to this task. Other dérives will follow. Let's flog the dead horse of moonshine!
(1) - The CNR is the National Council of Scientific Research, actually a lobby which plots to bring back into use the atomic power plants dismantled after the 1986-87 antinuclear struggles.
(2) - What about a Country & Western singer from Nashville introduced to a Japanese tourist as a representative of traditional British culture?
(3) - Later in the evening, they phoned their editorial office and decided not to write anything. With the exception of "Il Manifesto", there would be no press coverage of this prank until the liberal weekly magazine "L'Espresso" reported it in a piece on Luther Blissett and the "cultural terrorism" ("Giù la maschera, Luther Blissett!", L'Espresso, July 14th 1995).