I BLAME YOU, TONY BLAIR! at Kiasma Theatre — excellent review in the mustekala webzine

The major Finnish mustekala culture webzine has published an excellent long review/essay/analysis about I BLAME YOU, TONY BLAIR! performances at Kiasma Theatre in March 2016. Below, there are some quotes that I have translated freely — more translations to follow later on…


Performance of frustration
by Matti Tuomela (editor in chief)

[–] Fuck the system. Fuck the structures. The critique that is posed at the art world, the society, economy, and politics [–] is important and acute but, mostly, quite shallow. It is in fashion to make the (power) structures visible through the artwork. After that, the curtain falls. The enlightened individual leaves the theatre auditorium (or gallery) knowing that he is controlled by higher powers and that even atheism will not help him. A good artwork, however, does not push its beholder into apathy but states, in the end, that change is possible.

The black box stage of Kiasma Theatre has now a large, three-dimensional box made of light pipes or strings. My first impression is that they create a stage within a stage. [–] The performance situation reminds me of an installation. I start to ponder on which kind of contexts this performance has been shown before.

The “dialogue” between [performer] Jokesch and Blair that halls in the empty stage makes me think of the problem of critique, especially of the critique that is posed on those who are in power. But there is nothing special to see here. [–] I become very aware of myself. I listen but I don’t learn anything. I am not sure whether the performance escapes my grip or, vice versa, whether it brings together everything that I have been thinking before. Little by little, I get the idea: we won’t probably see a theatrical theatre performance here.

In the “Creative economy”, also creative fields need to be “efficient”. As performances are entities that move forward in time and space they are – due to dramaturgical reasons – often structured around binary tensions (even when they try to escape efficiency): there is a beginning and an end; a problem and a solution; a protagonist and an antagonist; the one who criticizes and the object of critique. Mostly, the release of these tensions generate a feeling of energy (that is, a feeling of empowerment) – and there is no “bad” power or energy from the perspective of Creative economy. Energy creates action and action leads to consumption. Efficiency, for its part, is the relation between energy and action.

The installationality of I BLAME YOU, TONY BLAIR! seems to resist the tension built between a beginning and an end. However, the half-an-hour long performance culminates in Tony Blair’s campaign song “Things can only get better”.

Jokesch starts to eat thread – eat red thread, “draw the long bow”, consume a product… or does he eat his own words? Thus, the performance questions its own meaning: the call for autonomy in art turns paradoxically into a product of Creative economy [–] No matter what you do – criticize, defend, rebel, give the finger, praise – things can only get better, every action is a forward move; every action creates (sur)plus. You can’t deconstruct anything.

In Creative economy, artist are required to be participative, give statements and suggest “new openings”. Artists are important because they have the guts to say things. Where IT companies hire hackers to reveal the data security problems in their systems, artists map the problems of the society. This is not only useful but even crucially important. This is part of the dynamics of the system.

I BLAME YOU, TONY BLAIR! reminds us, with good reason, how difficult it is to make a truly critical act; something that would not be only about giving the finger at the camera. On the other hand, the performance does not seem to depreciate this kind of rebels but, rather, understand them. When the bodies are away, the ghosts are present. Perhaps the performance is a dystopia in which creativity has been sacrificed to growth and expression has withered into a political debate that can only refer to itself anymore, echoing on the empty stage. The performance is like a machine that breathes our meaningless way of life.

(Photo: Luzie Stransky, pictured: Harald Jokesch)


About Joonas Lahtinen

Joonas Lahtinen (* 1984, FIN/A) is a performance artist, director and researcher who lives and works in Vienna and Helsinki. His performances are often site-specific and have a strong installational character. In his works, he explores the politics of space and of the everyday from perspectives that are both humorous and disturbing. Joonas has studied Performance at Queen Mary, University of London and he is writing a PhD thesis about the problematic of “emancipatory” participative art at the University of Helsinki. Since 1995, he has performed in various Live Art, theatre and TV productions both in Finland and abroad.
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