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Singing The Map

Territorial Exploration as a Form of Collective Writing and Collective Writing as a Form of Urban Intervention: The Work of the Wu Ming Foundation. Presentation by Wu Ming 1 at cocTELL 3, Medialab-Prado, Madrid, December 14th, 2017

Wu Ming Foundation

on 12 September 2018

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Transcript of Singing The Map

started as Wu Ming's blog. It was named after the great Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap, 1911-2013.

During the years
has become a meta-laboratory teeming with experiments, collective inquiries and collaborative writing, continually influencing and reshaping Wu Ming's work. It isn't only a blog anymore, as it comprises several discussion groups and mailing lists.

Wu Ming Foundation
as a constantly evolving «collective of collectives» couldn't have existed without
The Power of Mapping a Struggle: #Renziscappa
Since 2015. A permanent workshop and a meta-collective including Wu Ming and many others. RIC operates in the Cirenaica neighbourhood of Bologna.

Cirenaica was built in 1913 and named after the eastern region of (then recently conquered) Lybia. During the nazi occupation, from 1943 to 1945, a partisan underground network thrived in the neighbourhood. Both the partisans' unitary headquarters and their illegal printing press were in Cirenaica.
A federation of collectives, inquiry groups, laboratories and cultural projects which were born on or around our blog
, often developing from discussions on our
UNOs (Unidentified Narrative Objects)

In this presentation I will focus only on the collectives and projects related to walking, trekking, urban exploration and «singing the map».
An itinerant factory where stories are disassembled, analyzed and collectively rewritten in a quest for alternative, «detoxified» ways of telling them. There have been Wu Ming Labs on how radical movements can tell the story of their struggles more effectively, Wu Ming Labs for kids, Wu Ming Labs on the richness and meaning of landscapes, Wu Ming Labs called Cantarchivio on how to turn archival relics into stories, and even Wu Ming Labs on the works of JRR Tolkien (Wu Ming 4 is one of the major Italian experts in that field).
#Renziscappa - The Storymap
Territorial Exploration as a Form of Collective Writing and Collective Writing as a Form of Urban Intervention: The Praxis of the Wu Ming Foundation
YouTube search suggestions: «Protest against Renzi in...»
...almost every Italian city.
2014-16, Matteo Renzi runs away (chased by angry crowds)
Dozens of riotous protests against our then prime minister's official visits took place all over Italy in the 2014-16 period. It kept happening, but there was no broad, consistent narrative: journalists treated each event as an isolated fact and never connected the dots. The
community launched the #Renziscappa hashtag to name the practice, and provided tools to monitor - and incite - the phenomenon.
We're trying to map — and mapping is always also an act of re-imagination — those elusive lands where «creative non-fiction» becomes ever more hybrid.

books carve an intersection (or a «nobody's land») between investigative journalism, narrative biography, historical geography, environmental inquiry, and a postcolonial retelling of Italy’s past. We call them «unidentified narrative objects» because they can't be pidgeonholed into any category.

Several transmedia projects, laboratories and collectives developed from each of these works. There wouldn't be any
Wu Ming Labs
without our UNOs, which means there wouldn't be any Wu Ming Foundation.
The Ciclo dei Sentieri [Quadrilogy of Footpaths] is a projected series of four books in which Wu Ming 2 explores the radical transformations of Italy’s landscape by walking along the routes of high-speed railways. Two books have already been published:
Il sentiero degli dei
[The Footpath of Gods] (2010) narrates a 5-day walk from Bologna to Florence, across the Apennine Mountains, while
Il sentiero luminoso
[The Shining Footpath] (2016) chronicles a 7-day walk from Bologna to Milan, cutting through the Padan Plain, which is heavily concreted over.
Wu Ming's walks are collectively prepared months ahead, ad-hoc communities form around the announced intent to follow a particular route, suggesting alternative paths, places to see, people to get in touch with, and environmental struggles to cover.
Telling the story of the No Tav movement
I piedi sulla città. Casting a Spell of Footsteps on the Dystopian Bologna
Ghosts of Expo 2015
Our Feet on the City
(and more ghosts)

«Una resistenza transcontinentale e creola»
Resisting the Invasion of supermarkets and shopping malls
Resistenze in Cirenaica
The next two legs of the journey will be from Milan to Turin, and from Turin to Italy's north-western border with France, walking along the Susa Valley, whose map you can see in the very background of his presentation.
The Susa Valley is the home of the most radical movement and longest-lasting struggle in contemporary Italy, the «No Tav» [No Treno ad Alta Velocità] struggle, which is also the subject of Wu Ming 1's book
Un viaggio che non promettiamo breve. 25 anni di lotte No Tav
[We Don't Promise That This Trip Will Be Short. 25 Years of No Tav Struggles] (2016).
Point Lenana
Unidentified Narrative Objects
(and mountains, and ghosts)

Cantalamappa & Wu Ming Labs for kids
Since 2014. Alpinismo Molotov developed from the
Point Lenana
Tour de Force. It's a network of antifascist, anticapitalist trekkers, climbers and mountain bikers. The group's task is to develop critical approaches to trekking and mountaineering, two practices that are too often plagued with machismo, nationalism, competitiveness and commodification.

Alpinismo Molotov takes part in - and reports on - enviromental struggles in the Alps and the Apennines, and has close relationships with the No Tav movement in Piedmont.

Cent'anni a Nordest
[A Hundred Years In The North-East. A Journey Among the Ghosts of the Great War] (2015). A travelogue and an investigation on how the 100th anniversary of World War 1 is evoking all kinds of cultural spectres in the regions of North-Eastern Italy, which formerly belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and are still inhabited by national minorities speaking German, Ladin, Slovenian and other languages.
by Wu Ming 1 and Roberto Santachiara, 2013. This UNO revolves around the life of Italian writer, mountaineer and diplomat
Felice Benuzzi
(1910-1988), but it tells stories about mountaineering, the centrality of mountains in the Italian nationalist propaganda, the relationship between Fascism and the Alps, how postcolonial amnesy shapes racism in contemporary Italy, the ghosts of history walking in the streets of Trieste, fascist war crimes in Ethiopia and the Balkans, and many other things.

Point Lenana
Tour (de Force) was a 18-month-long series of talks, walks, treks, investigations, readings and performances which started as the
Point Lenana
national book tour but soon became more than that. The experiences many people shared during the PLTdF gave way to the birth of a new network,
Alpinismo Molotov
. The geographical and historical explorations conducted by Wu Ming 1 in the Italian North-East (the region which the tour touched more frequently) were reported in a new book,
Cent'anni a Nordest
The Battle for via Libia
In 1913 the streets of the Cirenaica neighbourhood were named after Lybian towns and sites of important battles in Italy's colonial invasion of Lybia: via Tripoli, via Bengasi, via Homs etc.

In 1949 the city of Bologna renamed them after partisans who had died during the war of Liberation. However, the biggest street in Cirenaica, via Libia, kept its old name.

In September 2015, during an urban trek in the neighbouhood, RIC took the initiative and renamed via Libia after
Vinka Kitarovic
, a Croatian woman who fought the Resistance in Bologna. After placing the signs, we told her story.
Here's Wu Ming 2 telling the story of Vinka Kitarovic to more than 200 people taking part to one of Resistenze in Cirenaica's urban treks.

As RIC we dig up stories of resistance which took place in the two Cyrenaicas: the one in Bologna and the one beyond the sea. Stories of people who resisted Italian colonialism and fascism. To us, it was all one transcontinental, creole Resistance. We organise urban treks, research the history of the neighbourhood, paint murals, and oppose the administration’s neoliberal city (un)planning.
When our Vinka Kitarovic signs were removed, we decided to change tactic and added a necessary description to the street name, qualifying Lybia as a «Site of crimes of Italian colonialism».
«Via Vinka Kitarovic» isn't the only sign RIC printed and put in the streets and on the walls of Cirenaica. We also printed plaques to signal the sites of the clandestine printing press and the partisan headquarters.
RIC repeatedly celebrated the partisan and internationalist fighter
Ilio Barontini
, who lived underground in Cirenaica in 1944. A street of the neighbourhood is named after him. Barontini was the commander when the Partisans defeated the Nazis at Porta Lame, Bologna, one of the most important battles of the Italian Resistance. Before that, he had been a commander of the Battaglione Garibaldi in the Spanish Civil war and even a military instructor for the Arbegnoch, the Ethiopian guerrillas resisting the Fascist invasion. A famous photograph shows Barontini in Ethiopia among Arbegnoch fighters. That picture inspired a mural which RIC painted on a wall in via Barontini.
The stories uncovered by RIC, after being told in the streets, are also published in our review
I quaderni di Cirene.

RIC is also part of the mobilisation against the construction of a new supermarket in via Libia. We organised meetings and protests and took part in the founding of Comitato BECCO, Bologna Est Contro il Cemento e per l'Ossigeno.
The Ghost of Majakovskij
and the walls of Mirafiori
Singing the map to kids:
Wu Ming
is more known abroad as
a «band of writers» authoring a particular
strand of «metahistorical fiction»
— from
(1999) to
The Army of Sleepwalkers
(2014); however, in the course of the 2010s we've been exploring different territories.

Very often, we've been
exploring territories.

On foot.

And we're not "only" a band of writers anymore.

«Every cm² of the territory is made of stories and conflict.»
Luther Blissett

The last leg of the «shining path» from Bologna to Milan was organised as part of a Wu Ming Lab on useless mega-projects. Several activists and artists accompanied Wu Ming 2 in his visit to a gigantic ghost town on the North-Western outskirts of Milan, ie the pavillions of Expo 2015, which are still in a state of abandonment two years after the end of that useless, ultra-expensive, land-consuming mega-event. Ghosts of Expo 2015 became a graphic short story, a documentary and the very last chapter of
Il sentiero luminoso
Some necessary pieces of info: why are mountains so important in our discourse and activities? Because they are important in Italy. Italy is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, with 35% of its territory covered by the Alps and the Apennines and 42% by hills.
Alpinismo Molotov performs rituals of «decontamination» on mountains peaks. For example, on October 29th, 2017, a date marking an important 100th anniversary related to WW1, they went to the top of Mount Matajur, on the border with Slovenia, to celebrate deserters. The banner was written in Italian and Slovenian and read: «Welcome back, ghosts of desertion», which is the last sentence of WM1's,
Cent'anni a Nordest
In Italy, the discourse on montains and mountain climbing has long been affected by nationalism, militarism and machismo. There are neofascist and neonazi mountain clubs. During the Great War and then during the fascist dictatorship the Alps marked the «sacred borders of the Fatherland».

On the other hand, the Italian mountains are also associated with resistance to power. During WW1 deserters hid on the mountains. In 1943 Partisans «went to the mountains» to organise the guerrilla warfare against fascism and the Nazi occupation. The most relevant struggle in contemporary Italy - the No Tav one - is taking place in the Alps
While mountain writing - that particular genre which in France is known as

récit d'ascension
- is usually solipsistic, collective writing is the core of Alpinismo Molotov's praxis. Reports of ascension, treks and performances are usually written and edited together by all those who took part to the action.

On a continental scale - with the sole exception of the «ZAD» movement opposing the construction of an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, France - No Tav are the most long-lasting, enduring movement opposing a mega-project, a public infrastructure which they consider not only useless and unbelievably expensive, but also dangerous for the environment and their lives.
The struggle started in 1991. 27 years later, the movement is still effectively slowing down the project, which was modified many times by the government. However, there’s much more than that: the movement has the cultural hegemony in the Susa Valley, influences the whole political life of the region and keeps making successful experiments in participation, self-management and even collective property. Police violence, judiciary repression, arrests, defamation, demonization… Nothing could defeat them, they’re still there. How could that happen?
We don't promise this trip will be short: 25 Years of No Tav Struggle
was written in the course of three years (2013-2016). The method consisted in
going deep
into the No Tav movement, taking part in several key moments of the struggle, interviewing dozens of activists, merging oral history with archival work, walking in the woods and climbing the mountains of the Val di Susa.

The book was discussed and collectively edited in the Alpinismo Molotov discussion list.
«This autumn is changing the world, poetry is in the streets.»
The biggest FIAT automobile factory used to be in the Mirafiori neighbourhood of Turin and employed about 50,000 workers. It was more than a factory: its surrounding walls delimited a town within the town. Now that FIAT is little more than the ghost of what it was, those walls delimit an empty space, a desert.
In 2011, as the Arab Springs, the 15 de Mayo movement in the Spanish state and the Occupy Movement in the US were redefining social conflict, media activism and the dynamics of urban intervention, Wu Ming 1 accepted a proposal by
, a «laboratory of urban observation» based in Turin: to write a short story set in Mirafiori, a story that would
come alive in the streets
WM1 wrote
, a story about the ghost of
Vladimir V. Majakovskij
suddenly appearing in the Mirafiori factory in the Summer of 1969, a few months before the so-called Autunno Caldo [Hot Autumn], which how we call the biggest wave of strikes in the history of the Italian Republic. Only workers can see the ghost, he's invisible to the bosses. He reads incendiary poems and plays a role in the radicalisation of the struggle, leading up to the Autunno Caldo.
In the story's ending, a writing appears on the walls of Mirafiori, and
it really did appear
everywhere on November 12th, 2011, after WM1 read Volodja in the neigbourhood, connecting one autumn to another.
Che cos'è un fantasma?
(What Is A Ghost?)
I fantasmi
, the ghosts, are a recurrent theme in Wu Ming's explorations and travelogues. Ghosts frequently appear in our novels. Ghosts appear to Wu Ming 2's literary
alter ego
during his walk from Bologna to Firenze. Ghosts appear to Wu Ming 1 during his peregrinations in the North-East. By «fantasmi» we mean suppressed memories of the social conflict that shaped the territory. If we take the landscape for granted, we don't see the conflict. If we ask the landscape the right questions, we evoke the ghosts. The way ghosts manifest themselves to us may give us insights into the
social conflict and reshaping of that territory.
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.

In what particular thought to work I know not;
But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

An anthology of AM's
récits d'ascension
was published in the springtime of 2017 and presented during the first Alpinismo Molotov national three-day festival in Avigliana, Susa Valley.

A peculiar way of evoking ghosts of social conflict on the mountains was devised by
Mariano Tomatis
, a member of Alpinismo Molotov who is also a magician and a historian of illusionism and mentalism. In two occasions he wrote and printed guides to «haunted» mountain areas which were then used during AM expeditions.
In the meantime, Wu Ming 2 was coordinating a laboratory of collective writing on environmental struggles. It was attended by activists from all over Italy, including the Susa Valley. One of the results was a booklet called
GODIImenti. A Primer for Resistance Against Unnecessary Imposed Harmful Mega-Projects
On May 13th, 2017, Wu Ming 2 led an all-day urban trek which he described as «un sortilegio di passi contro la Bologna distopica» [A spell of footsteps on the dystopian Bologna]. The trek connected many areas that are being or run the risk of being concreted over [cementificate] and/or heavily polluted because of short-sighted construction and infrastructural projects. Wu Ming 2 and others explained the projects and the necessity to oppose them.
On the other hand, the trek also connected such sites of resistance as occupied social centres, squats and areas where struggles against the dystopian Bologna are taking place.
Ghosts of Workers' Struggles in the Bolognina Neighbourhood
La Bolognina
(«the Little Bologna») is the first neighbourhood one encounters moving northwards from the Bologna Centrale railway station. For decades la Bolognina was an area of factories and factory workers. Nowadays nearly all the factories are abandoned, but it's still a working class neighbourhood, thanks to migrants. In fact, it's the most multicultural zone of Bologna. Bolognina is also a pretty cool place, and that's both its blessing and its curse: the local administration of Bologna and the economic powers that control the city have long been trying to gentrify the neighbourhood. We are evoking the ghosts of past workers' struggles as a way of telling the story of Bolognina and make people ever more aware of what they'd lose with gentrification. On November 19th, 2017, during an urban trek in the eastern part of the neighbourhood, Wu Ming 1 told the story of Officine Minganti, which was one of the most important factories in Bologna, employing about 1,500 metalworkers. During the nazi occupation, many workers of Officine Minganti went underground and took part to the Resistance, paying a big tribute of blood to the Liberation of Bologna. Now the building hosts a shopping mall, but telling its story is enough to evoke ghosts.
To Expose the Gentrification of Street Art, Street Art took itself off the Streets of Bologna
On March 18th, 2016 an exhibition called
Street Art: Banksy & Co.
opened in Bologna, Italy. It was promoted by Genus Bononiae, a cultural output of Fondazione Carisbo, ie the most important bank foundation in town. Some of the exhibited works of art came directly off the streets of Bologna. They had been removed from walls and turned into museum pieces. The response came when
, one of the street artists who unwillingly featured in the exhibition, erased
every mural
he'd painted in Bologna since the 1990s. Many of them were internationally acclaimed masterpieces. He did it in just one night, with the help of several teams of volunteers from the squatters' scene. The action, which caused quite a stir in town, in Italy and worldwide, had been co-ideated with Wu Ming. We wrote the press release and published on Giap in Italian and English. To this day, it's one of the most shared posts on the blog.
Cantalamappa [Sing-the-map] is the surname (or the nickname, nobody knows) of a couple of old hippie-type travellers, Guido and Adele, whose adventures we tell in our series of books for children. Since they were young, Guido and Adele have been
keeping a
Librone dei viaggi
[Big Book of Journeys], from which they pick up memories, anecdotes, characters. They usually tell about their trips (ehm...) to a friend, the librarian who lives next door on a small island at the center of a lake somewhere in Italy.
The stories we tell in the Cantalamappa books and the maps that illustrate them aim at making kids more aware about mapping as an act of reimagination of the territory around them. This is also what happens in the Cantalamappa labs for kids, which teachers and educators organise in primary schools and social centres.
Il Librone dei Viaggi
When we put the local protests on a map, they became
one national protest
Demonstrators even started to use the #Renziscappa hashtag on their banners, welcoming Renzi to the **th stop of the «#Renziscappa Tour».
«When gestures and words weave together the history of a place, the meaning that people give to that place during the day, and the expectations they have for that place during the night, only with great difficulty that corner of the world will be subjugated.»

Wu Ming 2
Il sentiero luminoso


, Act 1, Scene 1
ʿOmar al-Mukhtār
RIC's logo is a portrait of
ʿOmar al-Mukhtār
, the most important commander of the Lybian Resistance against the Italian occupation. In 1931 he was captured and hanged by the Fascists at the Soluch concentration camp, in front of 30,000 civilian prisoners.
Pic taken from the story
Why I Helped Blu Erasing His Art From The Walls Of Bologna
, by Brochendors Brothers, graphic-news.com, 2016
Full transcript