Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre was one of those tip-offs that seemed too good to be true. This is certainly a contender for one of the most unusual and memorable experiences that express how delightfully varied Glasgow is. You’re in for a treat if you are currently out searching for an evening like no other.
The most baffling part of the show is perhaps the simplicity of the concept. Huge, elaborate, robotic machines have been painstakingly constructed by one man, Eduard Bersudsky, from everyday objects that would usually be found in a drawer or perhaps on their way to a junk shop, not masquerading as the bionic limb for a mysterious, mythical figure of metal and mechanical movement. These figures are then displayed in all their incredibly complicated glory to music as varied as the kinemats (the name given to describe the mechanical structures) such as the classic below. And, I suppose, the rest is up to you and your imagination.
You watch each kinemat for a few minutes at most, yet the more you watch, the more you find yourself noticing. I believe that as well as being one of the most unusual shows I’ve seen in a very long time, it also teaches several valuable lessons.
1. A tiny glimpse of Russia
Upon arrival, you are presented with binoculars (they do come in handy when you’re making fruitless attempts at ascertaining which cog moves which wheel) and a few informative sheets about the show and the inspiration behind each kinemat. The realisation that Lenin and Stalin are portrayed frantically constructing the unbuildable Tower of Babel, or that the bells adorning so many of the kinemats were banned during the Russian communist regime where they first came into being, certainly leave you wondering what other cultural clues you may have missed in the artwork. Indeed, Bersudsky was never allowed to exhibit them in his home country as they were considered ideologically and aesthetically incorrect – he came to Glasgow. When you consider that the kinemats you are facing posses huge cultural references that a Westerner may never totally understand, they seem to take on a greater importance. This appreciation makes it all the more intriguing.
2. The surprising beauty in the everyday
Many of the objects which contribute to the overall, complete effect of each kinemat are ordinary. Wheels, bits of sewing machines, some kitchen utensils, a broken umbrella and a battered old pair of boots. Some of the objects are slightly unsettling; skulls, horns, mannequins, hooks and chains. The combination is mesmerising to watch. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a colander in quite the same way again as a result of having my eyes opened to all the possible uses of these random materials. I believe that can only be a good thing.
3. A literary reminder
One of the kinemats in particular caught my eye due to its title and inspiration – Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Possibly one of the most fabulously confusing, dark and mysterious novels that I have ever had the pleasure of reading, it had sat unassumingly on a bookshelf for several years until the evening of my visit to Sharmanka, at which point I felt like it was definitely time for a re-read. Perhaps you might feel the same way after visiting.
“What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? After all, shadows are cast by objects and people. There is the shadow of my sword. But there are also shadows of trees and living creatures. Would you like to denude the earth of all the trees and all the living beings in order to satisfy your fantasy of rejoicing in the naked light? You are a fool.” – The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov
4. A polite reminder that there is always more than meets the eye
As mentioned above, the provided binoculars provide a false sense of hope that you may be able to pinpoint the source of the magic of each kinemat; that you might be able to see which wooden rat turns which cog to make the mole they are riding move his head; or that you can see which chain rings which bell. But alas, the more you watch one cog or wheel, the more you realise that they in turn are being turned by another. No one in particular seems to be in control. Maybe that is a chaotic thought or perhaps it is a comfort; but it is certainly one worth considering every so often, in kinemats and in life.
5. The destination of the door down the stairs
Upon leaving Sharmanka, there is a strong possibility that you will feel a little confusedly inspired and as though you really need to reflect carefully upon the strange beauty of everything that you have just witnessed, preferably with a strong vodka. Luckily, downstairs you will find the back entrance to Café Cossachok. If the beautiful painted pillars, splendid rugs and decorative lanterns don’t tempt you, the White Russians and lovely staff certainly will. A few hours there was the perfect end to a thoroughly Russian experience on a dreich Glasgow evening. Further discussion of Sharmanka resulted in more questions than answers. So I suppose I’ll just have to return. See you there!