Friday, 16 May 2014

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre | Things To Do Glasgow

Have you ever thought to yourself, I need more bizarre Russian puppet theatre in my life? Well you are in luck my friend! Glasgow is home to the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, a collection of moving sculptures by Russian born artist Eduard Bersudsky, and there are full performances every Thursday and Sunday at 7pm with short performances running at 3pm Wednesday to Sunday. I'm really not sure what else to say. If you're the kind of person whose interest was piqued by the phrase "bizarre Russian puppet theatre" then just go and see this show, it explains itself far more eloquently than I could ever hope to. If you have ever enjoyed an obscure foreign language film, preferably in an independent cinema, you'll probably like this. If as a child you ever imagined garden gnomes coming to life and taking over the village green, Sharmanka will bring those feelings flooding back.
Photograph by Robin C Mitchell, used with permission

(I'm desperately trying here to avoid sounding like I'm writing an Art History essay and to not say things like the use interaction of sound and light, often from across the room or through other artworks, challenged the viewers sense of space within the room highlighting the sense of unknown that the political instability present in 1970s Russia would have wrought on the artist. Can we just take it as read that I'm the pretentious artsy-fartsy type but this was a really fun experience and not at all tedious and if it sounds at all like it would be then that's my fault for poor writing?)

When you first walk in it's very odd, the room feels quite claustrophobic because of how much stuff is crammed in there, but then the lights go down and you only concentrate on one thing at a time and each individual mechanism is  so fascinating that you truly do not notice anything else. The first ninety seconds made me almost uncomfortable, in the way that Pan's Labyrinth did, not uncomfortable in oh-god-I'm-going-to-die-now way. It starts off almost pitch black and then eerie Russian folk music started playing from a speaker behind us and coloured spotlights began illuminating the central space. The original sculptures are shown in a three sided room with the same dimensions of Bersudsky's old living room where he made these first pieces in Leningrad. Then they start moving.

Relevant words to this experience: Weird, Bizarre, Eerie, Macabre, Unsettling, Disorientating, Awesome, potentially the stuff of nightmares, eight quid well spent.
Photograph by Robin C Mitchell, used with permission. There were definitely a few moments when I wondered if I'd have nightmares after my visit. I haven't yet. 

The different coloured lights cast shadows all over the place and because everything is packed in so tightly they cast shadows on each other or you have to look through one sculpture to see the one behind it. They don't all move at the same time, it is a choreographed performance, and you're given binoculars to help take in the details but if you just look through the binoculars you miss what else is happening, and there is always something else happening. The first sculptures finish their performance and then you get up and start moving around the room to look at the automatons that are against the walls, there is an order to the way in which they are arranged but it's not a logical one so you start scurrying back and forth and round corners trying to find which sculpture is moving now.
The Last Eagle of the Highlands. This piece brought me close to tears, I'm trying to avoid a pun about moving puppets, but they were. Photograph by Friends of Sharmanka, used with permission.

Bersudsky moved to Glasgow in 1989 and you can feel the Scottish influences coming through in his work, the inclusion of Scottish folk music layered with the Russian sound, the sound of Scottish highland dancers feet mixed with the bells and whistles of his sculptures and the use of Scottish wildlife skulls alongside the other found objects that he uses. I don't really know what else to say, I think this is the sort of thing you need to experience for yourself.

I went to the full show so I got to see everything and I'd recommend this on the basis that some of my favourite pieces, such as the original sculptures, aren't included in the short show. You can find more information about times and prices, and some short videos, on the Sharmanka website HERE I'm very grateful to Robin C Mitchell and the friends of Sharmanka for giving me permission to use their images.

Have you ever been to something you couldn't explain if you tried? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @JoyHarpy

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