On a busy street in the heart of Glasgow, there is a door that leads on to a fantastic world of mechanical puppets, theater, music and light. You could easily miss this studio, as crowds hurry by en route to shops, bars, clubs, and restaurants. A few centuries ago, this street was infamous for its brothels, with 130 in one eighth of a mile stretch. Now, Trongate is the a small hub of theater, culture, galleries, cafes, bars and last minute bargain stores.
It is here amongst the passing crowds you will find the Sharmanka Kinetic Theater, home to a beautiful and truly magical world of mechanical delight. Sharmanka is the Russian word for “hurdy gurdy,” the barrel organ as once used by street entertainers across Europe. Inside the studio space the theater presents animated metal and carved wooden puppets performing short, beautifully lit, synchronized routines to music.
The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is an artistic collective of sculptor-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, theater director Tatyana Jakovskaya and lighting/sound designer Sergey Jakovsky. Eduard started making his puppets in Russia during the 1970s as part of “non-conformist art”—a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.
In 1974, Bersudsky worked for the parks department, making sculptures out of fallen trees, he also started making his kinemats—“kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro mechanical devices, incorporating pieces of old furniture, metal scrap and grotesque carved figures.” Originally, these were only shown to a small group of close friends, as some of his work made satirical and political comment about life in communist Russia. When he showed some of his work to theater director Tatyana Jakovskaya in 1988, she encouraged him and together with Tatyana’s son, thirteen-year-old Sergey Jakovsky, they, they formed the Sharmanka Kinetic Theater in 1989.
Sharmanka toured Europe, arriving in Scotland in 1993 where the Glasgow Museums bought some of its exhibits for Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and invited the trio to make a personal show at McLellan Galleries. Since then, Sharmanka have been based in Glasgow, presenting their shows to the public. Each show is crammed with incredible animated creations, which have been described as a cross between Heath-Robinson and Hieronymus Bosch. These figures move in time with the music, telling a story, which the viewer follows through the rise and fall of the lights.
Eduard creates his fantastic kinemats from discarded items and together with his wife and step-son, produces the most delightful, enchanting, and fantastic works of art. You can read more about Sharmanka and see a whole selection of videos here.
Bonus pictures plus videos, after the jump…