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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Griff says; Welcome to Glasgow's best kept secret

If any of you out there in blogland ever decide to visit the dirty old town of Glasgow then the one must see visitor attraction in the city, which I would advise you to take in at all costs, is the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. The reason that I mention the Sharmanka tonight is that I paid it an overdue visit today in its swanky new premises at Trongate103. Whilst there I learned that it is now being used as a venue for live music, with the first performance due tomorrow, Thursday July 7th at 20:00.

But more of that later, firstly I'd like to explain a wee bit more about the unique Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre experience itself. Sharmanka is the Russian word for hurdy-gurdy and if you think of what that instrument evokes; a clanking, mechanical contraption belching sinister fairground music and operated by a shabby, disreputable vagabond; then you have an inkling into the ambience conjured up by this strange and uncommon theatre collaboration.

Imagine hundreds of carved figures and animal bones mounted on huge mechanical machines composed of bicycle parts, antiquated sewing-macines and other pieces of old scrap suddenly lurching into ominous life. Now imagine them performing an incredible choreography to a programme of haunting music and the whole perfectly synchronised to a marvellously inventive light show. Can you imagine that? If so, congratulations on your wonderfully gothic creative inner life. If not, then get yourself down to Trongate103 in Glasgow to see the real thing. You won't regret it. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre describes itself as, "telling funny and tragic stories of the human spirit as it struggles against the relentless circles of life and death."
And that sums up the whole experience really; it's a spooky, darkly humorous dance of grotesque figures underpinned with comic religious and erotic imagery. Here's a video of the installation, Master and Margarita, to give you a flavour of what to expect:

The theatre is a collaboration between sculptor-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, theatre director Tatyana Jakovskaya, and light and sound designer Sergey Jakovsky.
Eduard Bersudsky (b. 1939, St.Petersburg, Russia - then Leningrad, USSR) is a self-taught, visionary artist. He started carving in his late 20s, while making a modest living as a metal worker, electrician, skipper on a barge, night guard and boiler man, and acquired his education in museums, libraries, exhibitions, and evening classes for drawing and sculpture.

In 1974-80 Bersudsky took part in some exhibitions of “non-conformist art” - a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.
In 1974 he found a job with his local park department; his remit, to carve giant figures out of fallen trees for children's playgrounds. At the same time in his only room in a communal flat he began producing 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. Until 1989 his kinemats could be seen only by few friends and acquaintances.
In 1988 he met Tatyana Jakovskaya (b.1947), a theatre critic and director. Together they founded Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (opening in St.Petersburg in 1990). The third member of team – Sergey Jakovsky (born 1980) – joined Sharmanka at the age of 13 and gradually became responsible for light/sound design as well as technical management.
In 1993, Sharmanka was driven out of Russia by an economic depression and a lack of support for art. At this time, Glasgow Museums bought some of its exhibits for the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and invited it to provide a personal show at the McLellan Galleries in the city. Eventually, in 1996 Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery/Workshop opened permanently in Glasgow. Initially, it took up premises in King Street, before a short sojourn in Osborne Street and now it finally has a permanent performance space in the Trongate at Trongate103. I first visited the Sharmanka several years ago and have returned numerous times, each time I go I pick up on something new. It truly is a wonderful experience.

As mentioned at the start of this piece, Sharmanka now plays host to live music. Tomorrow, sees them welcoming, at short notice, the combined talents of Howie Reeve (of Tattie Toes) and Drew Wright, aka Wounded Knee, to the theatre. Wounded Knee, an experimental vocalist and singer, recently relocated to Glasgow from Edinburgh. His music; dark experimental folk; can be found, and downloaded free on his bandcamp page. Here's his version of Hamish Henderson's classic, alternative Scottish anthem, Freedom Come-All-Ye, released this year in support of the popular uprising in Egypt.

And here's his version of Shane MacGowan's, A Pair of Brown Eyes, released in June of this year:

Howie Reeve is the bass player in Tattie Toes, and has previously played in other Glasgow luminaries, most notably Maxton Grainger and Shlebie.
Tattie Toes; who trade in quirky, experimental, European-style jazz-folk; have an album which will be in the shops in September 2011, but you can get an advance copy 'here' and also pick up three free MP3 tracks while your at it. Here are Tattie Toes performing live at the CCA, Glasgow last year.

I'm not sure how Reeve and Wright's collaboration will sound but it should be mighty interesting. I'll try to get there myself but as I only learned of the concert today and have plans to head to the Highlands tomorrow I might not make it back in time. If you're in Glasgow, do try to get along and feel free to send us your review. The duo will perform amidst Eduard Bersudsky's marvelous mechanical machines and donations will be collected for the artists as you leave the gallery following their performance.



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