It’s hard to find a better way of describing the bizarre work of Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre than in the words of the artists themselves -“Hundreds of carved figures and pieces of old scrap perform an incredible choreography to haunting music and synchronised light, telling the funny and tragic stories of the human spirit as it struggles against the relentless circles of life and death”.
I first stumbled across Sharmanka at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2008. It was a strange and unique experience; upon entry we were handed a pair of binoculars and ushered into a darkened auditorium. Once seated, beautifully eerie music began to play and one by one the huge sculptures on the stage were lit up and came to life, moving in a variety of intricate and fascinating ways and throwing exaggerated shadows across the whole space. The level of detail was amazing (hence the binoculars) and each exhibit told its own story.
Founded in Russia in 1989, Sharmanka (Russian for hurdy-gurdy) is a collaboration between sculptor and mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, theatre director Tatyana Jakovskaya and lighting designer Sergey Jakovsky. The trio have been based in Glasgow since 1996, where they have made their permanent home at Trongate 103.
Their sculptures are driven by electrical motors and incorporate anything from old furniture and re-used household items to metal scrap and recycled industrial components. Many also feature a plethora of grotesque wooden figures and all of these items are linked by a series of wheels, cogs, strings and wires forming a complex web of interconnected pieces, moving in tandem. The works have themes as wide ranging as love, death, time, art and politics. All are simultaneously dark, clever and humorous.
Sharmanka regularly send their sculptures on tour and are mounting an exhibition this summer in Tel Aviv, but you can catch their work within the UK at the National Museum in Edinburgh (The Millennium Clock) or by dropping into one of their weekly performances at Trongate 103 in Glasgow.