Collaborative Artistic Theory And Practice. ‘Le ragioni dei gruppi’. Wu Ming and Scrittura Industriale Collettiva

by Silvia Bergamini

In the 21st century social media has created great opportunities for collaborative writing (Rettberg 2013 and 2014). Collaboration and interactivity have become common and ordinary practices on the web. Communities of users around the globe can easily exchange content, or create stories via blogs, wikis and facebook. This social practice has revolutionised the modalities, aims and forms of writing in the digital era (Brook-Patti, eds, 2014). Writing is no longer conceived of as an individual process, but as a collaborative practice: the narratives are always subject to re-writing or adaptation. How have contemporary writers used social media to write together? Are their narratives “single” or “plural”?

Within the Italian scenario, two groups of writers have been pioneering collaborative writing through new media in different ways: Wu Ming (2000-) and Scrittura Industriale Collettiva (SIC) (2007-). Using digital environments, what forms of collaborative writing do Wu Ming and SIC experiment? What is their conception of artistic process and participation?

Wu Ming, a subset of the previous Luther Blissett Project (1995-96), is composed of five Italian writers, who have made collaboration one of the core principles of their writing practice. In their production of fiction and non-fiction printed books, Wu Ming collaborate in planning, agreeing, and combining individual pieces into one “single” story. In addition, their narratives develop multimedia para-textual material, written by Wu Ming members or from other writers/artists through the blog Giap!, Pinterest, and Twitter (e.g. on the website of the historical novel Manituana there are side stories, placemarks, and sounds).

According to Wu Ming’s cultural strategy, the artistic work goes through a metamorphosis: from the initial form of printed text to various forms of “open” narratives. This means that their narratives, thanks to the “copyleft policies”, can constantly evolve through the addition of extra materials, such as the book trailer or the story to ‘level 2’ on the Manituana website, which allows the reader to interact with the story (Patti 2016). Wu Ming want to engage with a wider audience, by considering the artistic work as “fluid” and somehow “modifiable” by the readership once it has been generated. Another example of this practice is the production of the theatrical show based on the novel L’Armata dei Sonnambuli (Napoli, June 2017). Wu Ming’s narratives are “malleable”: they can be converted into different artistic forms (e.g. graphic novels, public readings and concerts). All of these practices and extra material generate a “plurality” of narratives.

Scrittura Industriale Collettiva (SIC) takes a different approach. For Gregorio Magini and Vanni Santoni – who in 2007 founded the method of serialised writing SIC – collective narratives are forms of organized collaboration, where many writers achieve a “single” narrative. In 2013, SIC’s experiment resulted in the publication of the novel In territorio nemico, written by 115 authors. Magini and Santoni used the internet platform to coordinate and supervise all of the writers during the writing process. The SIC method enabled a community of writers to write a story together, where everyone has a specific role to fulfil and specific goals to accomplish (Rettberg 2011). Once the work has been published, the writers/or readers do not further intervene to change or modify the narrative across social media.

Wu Ming and SIC: what are the differences in their collaborative writing? For SIC the participation of user-writers is essential for writing the novel, whereas for Wu Ming the participation of user-readers is fundamental for the reception of the work (except from the e-book Tifiamo Asteroide, 2007, composed of short-stories by blog members). Although Wu Ming and SIC share some common values – such as authorial collectivism  – their practices reveal different views of artistic production and participation. For Wu Ming, the starting point is the “single” printed novel, which will be then metamorphosed into a “plurality” of narratives in many artistic forms thanks to the engagement of the readership or other artists across digital environments. On the contrary, SIC’s artistic process moves from the great “plurality” of writers (115) to produce a “single” narrative. In conclusion, Wu Ming and SIC achieve opposite results by getting the most out of the potentialities of new media.

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