Matti Linnavuori[1]


What is an “inter-critic”? I have been both amused and confused in trying to place into my dictionary this Slovenian introduction to English. But because Slovenia is such a great football country, where else if not here there would be a place in the line-up also for the inter-critic. For is not the critic a bit like the inside forward?

The inside forward became obsolete and had to change into a midfielder, or take the so-called Makelele position (Jonathan Wilson, Inverting the Pyramid, a History of Football Tactics, 2008). The critic also became obsolete and had to change into an inter-critic. This much is clear, but the midfielder still continues to play football in the field, whereas the inter-critic plays several different games in various fields. Even the old-fashioned critic sometimes had trouble telling whether he was in the service of journalism or art.

In the following I hope to catch glimpses of the inter-critic in action and explain why some of his moves look silly and why some actually are silly. Before anyone asks who then plays the role of the referee in my metaphor, I promise to leave football aside and from now on talk about theatre.

The immaterial ownership of the performance is being contested. Who has the last word in determining the quality or essence of the performance? Until now, it was the right of the performer to interfere with the life of the spectator, and not the other way around. The cathartic experience was something the performers gave to their audience. Now, with audience participation, the performers guide the spectators to share the cathartic experience with their fellow spectators.

The performance may e.g. force the audience to run across a room the way La Fura Dels Baus did in the early 1980s. Now if a spectator is physically unable to run, he might feel uncomfortable facing the oncoming crowd of actors and fellow audience members, no matter how emotionally and ethically valuable the build-up to that rush may have been. It is easy to frighten, but I wonder if being afraid ennobles the experience.

To capture it in criticism, one should use a direct radio broadcast, but then the piece of criticism would be an out-of-breath commentary with background noises both from the performers and stampeding fellow spectators. Was not criticism supposed to be an experience and emotion recollected in tranquillity?

Attempts from the critic to interrupt the performance are unusual. I am proud to say that as early as 1997 this form of inter-criticism emerged where else but in Finland. Mattiesko Hytönen marched in the middle of a performance and pretended to rape the female artist.

This took place in an art gallery. The artist, fully clothed, lay still in a water bed under red blankets. There were ca thirty spectators, who were treated heart-shaped marmalades. Occasionally a member of the audience would walk to the artist, give a gentle touch (with the index finger, keeping the Finnish distance) to the water bed and to the artist, who would respond by reading a few sentences of Finnish Legislation or the Maastricht Treaty of the European Union from books she held under her blankets.

Mr Hytönen thought this was not much. He expected the artist to roll on the bed. He planned to join her then, which would be an ideal form of dialogue between artist and audience, as he writes in his autobiography (Rinnanympärys 106, 1999). Mr Hytönen got up, removed the Maastricht Treaty, lay down on the bed behind the artist, touched her breast and pretended to rape her. The blanket remained between the two. Afterward, he picked the book up and put it back on the water bed.

In his newspaper column he gave a detailed account of what had happened: the rest of the audience was distressed, but did not try to prevent him. To his wife Mr Hytönen justified himself by saying that perhaps his was a study in collective guilt just because no one had intervened.

After receiving a complaint, the self-regulating Council for Mass Media in Finland formally decided that Mr Hytönen had violated good journalistic practice.

This was inter-criticism taken to its extreme. He was already well-known and on the brink of becoming famous, whereas she has remained in the margins of art. Using the weight of one’s celebrity to ridicule someone of a weaker status makes the deed look very bad. He took possession of her performance and turned it into his piece of journalism; calling it his work of art would be inappropriate. He totally changed the nature of the event. It was not a momentary disruption familiar from football fields, where someone runs naked amidst the players who resume play as soon as security has carried the trespasser away. In football these incidents are not called inter-criticism but hooliganism.

When I started as a theatre critic in 1979, my more experienced colleagues often spoke of shows as if they had made them. Not made their reputation, mind you, nor discovered their hidden meaning, but rather invented it. It was as if shows were the property of critics. I have always been naive enough to think it is the other way round. Sometimes when an actor thanks me for a favourable review, I thank him back for an excellent performance. First there is a work of art, and only then enters the critic, and hopefully he is able to see and understand, and hopefully he has enough writing skills to let the reader share the experience.

But not one of those three can claim an ownership of the show. The critic and the audience members may not remember the lines as long as the actor does, but even the actor cannot recreate the show after its run is over. The ownership vaporizes into thin air.

Even though no performance can be owned, it can, however, be hijacked from its rightful owners. TheNord-Ost siege in Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow (2002) is a case in point. Surely the critic should condemn atrocity, be it guns or poison gas, but then he is no longer writing about theatre but politics. The old type of critic will fix his eyes on art only, but the inter-critic takes a balanced position at the half-way mark between politics and art in order to discern the essential in both of them. This reminds me of the so-called objective journalism of the 1970s. Leftist professors advocated it as objective, when in actual fact it was anti-imperialist, anti-West and pro-communist, pro-Soviet. But of course the inter-critic is much too smart to be caught in an objective position. The inter-critic keeps constantly on the move.

And now the second half of my paper. Forty-five minutes more. I believe no goals were scored during the first half, but playing, as I am, away from home, a solid defence is vital, and a draw would be an honourable result.

The invitation to Maribor mentioned critics as curators of theatre festivals. This is not the first time I hear of critics as curators in the Balkans. And it seems that everyone I meet from Iran is not only a critic but also a scholar, a creative artist plus runs a festival or two. I will now disapprove of the practice and then change my mind.

Back in Finland, critics more usually curate visual art than theatre. Theatre festivals are compiled by playwrights, directors, actors, but not critics. Therefore I give you the opinions of Paula Holmila, who is a critic of visual arts. She writes in the Finnish critics’ publication (Kritiikin uutiset 2/2010) that the credibility of critics is threatened, when we curate exhibitions for big institutions such as national or regional art museums. Big institutions get big public funding, and therefore the critics should not compromise ourselves, but remain free to scrutinize the policies of museums.

Holmila regrets there is no code of ethics for critics in Finland, but advises us to consult the journalistic code of practice, which forbids one to write about things to which one is closely connected. One must not publish anything which might be to one’s own benefit or which might serve as one’s means of revenge. Holmila says that if one organises exhibitions for a particular museum, one cannot write a single line about this museum. Holmila even doubts whether the curator-critic can commission her colleague to write a news item about the same museum. She does not specify how long this withdrawal should be maintained in case the critic and the museum terminate their co-operation.

During the preparation of the IATC Code of Practice a question was raised, whether one can write about a festival one has helped compile. A Finnish critic would answer no. What would an inter-critic say? The old and obsolete critic is no longer necessary. The question is where do we put his professional experience and wisdom, to the dump, or to the service of art museums and theatre festivals? Somehow I find it difficult to disapprove of countries and cultures, where the critic is allowed to evolve into an inter-critic; where it is seen that the skills of the critic can contribute to society rather than be wasted in unemployment.

In the good old days people experienced art, and now we consume it. I would very much like to return to the old world (meaning my younger years), when art was a significant part of every individual’s character building. Had today’s inter-critic paid a visit to this bygone era, he would have been given urgent medical attention for his hyperactively shifting focus.

Still, I realize my nostalgic position is vulnerable. In the old days, even the medium-hard wheat flour was more medium-hard, in the ironic words of Jouko Turkka, the enfant terrible of Finnish theatre (Aiheita, 1982). Turkka (b. 1942) also wrote that old men looking at and desiring young girls means the men regret their wasted lives. But in the best possible world we don’t get old at all, and neither do the girls, but instead we are able to relive our past, only this time it will go right. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) is a prime example.

A less obsessed tribute to the superiority of the past is writing and reading memoirs, which I have been doing in this paper.

And when the belief in past glories grows even thinner, its most watered-down form is the quote. Here goes. The Fast Show was a hilarious and successful comedy series in English television in the mid-1990s. One of the characters is the football commentator Ron Manager. He is asked to give his expert opinion and instead his mind starts to ramble:

“Football… so different in the old days… small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts… Mmm… Marvellous.”


[1] Matti Linnavuori is a theatre critic based in Helsinki, Finland, and a member of the Critical Stages editorial board.

Copyright © 2011 Matti Linnavuori
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution International License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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Whose Performance Is It Anyway?