REVIEWS:


  1. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre at Trongate 103, Glasgow.

  2. A five-star review to the hauntingly mesmerising robotic ballet all the way from Russia.

  3. By Aftab Ali. The Journal, Scotland Student Newspaper, Friday, 25 April, 2014

        http://www.journal-online.co.uk/article/11650-review_sharmanka_kinetic_theatre_trongate_103_glasgow

  1. Shadow plays by Kapka Kassabova, Aeon Magazine, 17 May 2013

       http://aeon.co/magazine/oceanic-feeling/kapka-kassabova-bersudsky-art/

  1. Fittings Multimedia Arts & Sharmanka: Sputnik by John Ellingsworth

       http://sideshow-circusmagazine.com/magazine/reviews/fittings-multimedia-arts-sharmanka-sputnik

  1. Sharmanka's Sculpted Theatre

       http://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/features/35483-sharmankas_sculpted_theatre

  1. Moving theatre  by Gavin Bell, The Observer, Sunday 5 April 2009

  2. Wheels of Life***** by Jim Gilchirst. The Scotsman, 26 August 2008

  3. Wheels of Life **** by Yasmin Sulaiman. The List,  7 August 2008

  4. SHARMANKA by Hannah Adcock. The Scots Magazine,  March 2007

  5. Now Their Time Has Come by Mary Brennan. The Herald, December 30 2005

  6. Carnival of Animals,  Chamber of Horrors. Movement and Shadows, Royal Museum, Edinburgh

       * * * * by Catriona Black, Sunday Herald, 11 December 2005

  1. Magic and The Machine by Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman, Sat 26 Nov 2005

  2. All Very Moving. Eduard Bersudsky’s Kinetic Art packs an emotional punch in Glasgow.

       By Michael Brunton, Time Magazine, Sunday, Jul. 10, 2005

  1. Russian Art Revolution by Clare Harris, The Big Issue in Scotland, March10-16, 2005

  2. Ring the Bell by Jim Gilchrist, The Scotsman, Monday, 6th January 2003

  3. So Much More Then Puppetry in Mechanical Creations by John Russell Taylor. The Times, Fri 30 August 2002

  4. Clocking Creations by Jim Gilchrist, The Scotsman, 19 December 2000

  5. Russia’s True Artists Ignored by Jo Durden-Smith,  St.Petersburg Times

 


IN THE BOOKS

  1. The Best Art You've Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures From Around the World  by Julian Spalding

        http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Art-Youve-Never-Seen/dp/1848362714/


  1. The Millennium Clock Tower by Maggy Lenert

       http://www.amazon.co.uk/Millennium-Clock-Tower-Maggy-Lennert/dp/1905267673/


  1. Nothing to See Here: A Guide to the Hidden Joys of Scotland by Anne Ward,

       http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothing-See-Here-Scotland-Mountains/dp/190702512X/


  1. More Bollocks to Alton Towers: More Uncommonly British Days Out by Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris, Joel Morris

       http://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Bollocks-Alton-Towers-Uncommonly-ebook/dp/B002RI90JK/


  1. Pole to Pole by Michael Palin http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pole-Michael-Palin/dp/0753823268/

 


TV

  1. 2012 “Urban Secrets” with Alan Cumming (S1 E8)

  2. 2012  BBC “Antique Road Show”

  3. 2002 “BBC Breakfast”

  4. 1991 “Pole to Pole” with Michael Palin



Press about "Wheels of Life"

at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008


WHEELS OF LIFE *****

SCOTSMAN

26 August 2008

By JIM GILCHRIST


YOU can see why Arts Council bean-counters have difficulty with the creations of Eduard Bersudsky, the Glasgow-based Russian mechanical genius behind Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (at Theatre Workshop until 30 August). Is it theatre, visual art, puppetry or a seance in a scrapyard, you wonder, as this "mechanical ballet for 15 machines", still and shrouded in stage fog as you enter the theatre, stirs into eccentric, whirring and clanging life.

Old sewing machines, bicycle wheels and obscure Victorian gadgets combine with animal skulls and Bersudsky's deftly carved figures – droll, bawdy, grotesque, pathetic – so each "kinemat" becomes a spinning, clattering predestined universe of its own, peopled by animals, people or demons, the sleight of hand enhanced by lighting and fragmented music.

You could be glib and describe it as Hieronymus Bosch meets Heath Robinson, but what goes unseen and unheard but is very tangible, is the burden of centuries of history and human pain informing these marvellous creations.

Aficionados of Sharmanka's Glasgow gallery will recognise some old favourites – the ghastly, death's-headed Master and Margerita with its orbiting figures, the droll bickering between a lugubrious voiced Nickodym and its wheedling, bird-like familiar, and the Titanic, with its cavorting, top-hatted crew – ship of fools or handcart to Hell?

More recent pieces include the marvellously sardonic Secret Life of Artists, in which a spinning procession of painters such as Dali, Lautrec and Da Vinci is cranked by Death himself while below him a gargoyle-like figure – presumably the archetypal suffering artist – gets it in the neck; or the delicately framed Singer Tower, inhabited by industrious animals. Never has the Singer sewing machine been so surreally deployed.



WHEELS OF LIFE *****

SHARMANKA Kinetic Theatre

THREE WEEKS

By Dora Petherbridge


Forgotten industrial and domestic machinery has been reclaimed to create this unnerving and beautiful 'mechanical ballet.' More vibrant folk dance than ballet, the world Eduard Bersudsky's moving sculptures generate is one of enslavement and community. Carved wooden grotesques set in motion structures ingeniously assembled from Singer sewing machines, gramophones, cogs and spokes. In a brilliant conceit the audience is issued with binoculars and voyeuristically we spy on these animal and human creatures chained to their cyclical tasks. Being in control of our own long shots and close-ups gives this all too brief half hour show dream-like perspectives. The final image is nightmarish, however: a tiny skeleton illuminated by a red glow rotates a wheel - a wheel of life.




WHEELS OF LIFE ****

THE LIST

7 August 2008

By Yasmin Sulaiman


From Russia – via Glasgow – with love

It’s hard to call Wheels of Life, the new production by Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, a ‘play’ as such. Huddled in the intimate Theatre Workshop venue, the audience is confronted with a macabre toy box of intricate artistic contraptions; a captivating maze of spinning wheels and Singer sewing machines, all elegantly fashioned into the graceful yet terrifying gothic structures upon which their creator, Russian artist Eduard Bersudsky, has built his reputation.


Since the establishment of the Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery in Glasgow in 1996, Bersudsky has captivated Scotland with his unique moving sculptures (famous works include his much-lauded Millennium Clock at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh).


As an exhibition of both new and old works by Bersudsky, Wheels of Life is a fascinating and curiously moving piece. Miniscule figures, carved to the most intimate detail, are better observed with the binoculars handed out at the entrance, while the shadows cast against the walls by the delicate lighting are childlike yet darkly humorous. But there’s an inconsistency of emotion that jars, the sublime often turning too quickly to the crass. It’s this that prevents Wheels of Life from becoming what it almost is: an uplifting, operatic mechanical tribute to the complexity of existence.




WHEELS OF LIFE

SCOTSMAN

05 August 2008

by Leon Conrad 


Low Down

In a darkened room, mechanical constructions wait silently. Some fine parts swing gently in the draught which comes in from the open door. Audience members fiddle with the binoculars they're given. The air is heavy with expectancy and the soundwaves of an electronic musical score. Then the show starts. Machines whirr into action in turn, each tells its own story, populated with found objects and intricate wooden carvings of animals, birds, humans and creatures which have been hybridised from the paintings of Bosch, the carvings in medieval cathedrals and the Russian folk carving tradition.

Review

Even without the Russian writing conspicuous on some of the automata in this collection, or the Russian music used when some of them 'speak', it would be hard to place the genesis of this installation culturally anywhere but Russia.

These machines are unique and full of character, I'm even tempted to say soul. Perhaps it is not surprising to learn that their maker, Eduard Bersudsky, was a Russian passive dissident who became an elective mute under Communist rule, and during that time expressed mechanically all he was unable to express verbally, as Shostakovich did in music. Bersudsky was a very gifted sculptor, but was unsatisfied with static form. He needed his scultptures to move. In 1967, he created his first 'kinemat' as he calls these creatures. More followed, crowding the intimate performance space he'd set up in his house in St Petersburg (previously Leningrad) after Perestroika. Bersudsky and his collaborator, theatre director Tatyana Jakovskaya were eventually offered the chance to tour the collection, following which they ended up settling in Scotland, where they are now based.

In this more democratic environment, within the established norms of a civil society, Bersudsky's work took a different shape. Rather than working almost exclusively with wood, his 'kinemat's became structured around recycled and salvaged metal objects - with quite a few Singer sewing machines forming the basis of his constructions, always populated with finely-executed wooden carvings which are breathtakingly expressive.

The machines 'speak' in turn, each telling its own story - some with personal references, others with cultural ones, others more universal, each as mesmerising as the last. One of the most soul-touching for me was the 'kinemat' called 'The Secret Life of Artists'. A spire, on top of which a disc with human figures rotate, most of which are recognisable - Picasso, Dali ... underneath, a tiny skeleton, rotates the mechanism which causes the wheel to spin. Below that, in a larger enclosed area, lit in red, a grotesque figure, reminiscent of Alberich in the Niebelungenlied, turns another wheel, its tongue hanging out, drooling, its left hand operating a toy sewing machine wheel, the needle of which perforates its right hand, placed in a receiving gesture by its mouth. The connection between inner workings and outward display mirrors inner cravings and outer signs - from erections on a personal level (Nikodym) to the monumental urges which fuel the collectivist wish to participate in parades - of whatever kind, for whatever reason (Crusader).

Bersudsky still prefers to remain detached from his works in the context of the performance arena. They 'speak' for themselves - and for him. Two quotes published in the retrospective catalogue of his work reveal much of the inner workings of their maker's mind ... and provide a key to understanding and appreciating the work more fully ...

"... he ventured to assert that if a mechanic could be found to construct a marionette according to his specifications he would make it perform a dance which not one of their most accomplished dancers would be able to equal. And what advantage would these puppets have over living dancers? What advantage? First of all, my friend, a negative one, namely, that they always will be without affectation." Heinrich von Kleist, Puppet Theatre, 1802

"'No,' says the actor emphatically, 'never, never; there has never been an actor who reached such a state of mechanical perfection that his body was absolutely the slave of his mind ... The Marionette appears to me to be the last echo of some noble and beautiful art of a past civilisation.' '... let me tell them a few things about these Puppets. Let me again repeat that they are the descendants of a great and noble family of images, images which were made in the likeness of God; and that many centuries ago these figures had a rhythmical movement and not a jerky one; had no need for wires to support them, nor did they speak through the nose of a hidden manipulator.'" Edward Gordon Graig, The Actor and Über-marionette, 1908.



WHEELS OF LIFE

FEST

Sun 17 Aug 2008

by Lucy Jackson

There are no human performers in this performance. Instead, Eduard Bersudsky’s creations, or "kinetic sculptures," are the ticking, ringing, spinning and whirring stars of the show. This is a delightful exploration of our perceptions of live theatre, as well as a beautiful exhibition of craftsmanship.


Somewhere, someone unseen presses buttons, switching the automata on and off while someone else operates the excellent lighting and sound that project eerie shadows onto the walls. At some point in time these "kinetic sculptures" were made by the human hands of Bersudsky, and yet there is no apparent need for human intervention in the performance. Who needs the messy, unpredictable chaos of actors?


Seated in an auditorium armed with a pair of binoculars, the audience watches as, one-by-one, the sculptures move into life, each accompanied by a folk song, a classical medley or merely haunting sound effects. Each has a meaning or communicates an emotion, for example the ‘Crusader’, the automaton with swinging arms and forthright motions anounces, "what a joy to march in a crowd, to be part of something, whatever the cause, whatever the banners."

Other sculptures include an interpretation of the battleship Aurora and of 'The Master and Margarita,' always adding interesting hidden wheels within wheels. This production, apart from being aesthetically marvellous, comments on ideas of order and anarchy, and many of the creations also have intensely personal dedications from the artist. Anyone making it to Theatre Workshop in Stockbridge will be enchanted.





Press FROM THE PAST:

 

FAR FROM SODDING CROWD

More Uncommongly British Days Out”

by Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris and Joel Morris.


In this sequence of bestseller “Bollocks to Alton Towers” there are five pages of Sharmanka story and detailed review – one of the best pieces written about us.




SHARMANKA

"The Scots Magazine”

March 2007

Hannah Adcock discovers some revolutionary Russian Sculpture in the heart of Glasgow

an extract from a six page feature:


“Standing in the performance hall is like existing in a different dimension. For a start, it is filled with silent and glowering kinetic sculptures, some more than eight feet tall, built precisely and artistically from large amounts of scrap. The half-light covers them like gauze. Time is dependant on the sculptures, because the show begins when they choose, or so it seems. No person is in sight. The half-light dims, dramatic lighting begins and music plays. Constituent parts of machines move at their own pace, gradually combining with each other to create a continuum, both tragic and comic, that reaches from life to death. There is something unreal about the experience, as though it is happening in a dream, not in Glasgow city centre, with shoppers streaming past only a few streets away. “

 



NOW THEIR TIME HAS COME

The HERALD

December 30 2005

by MARY BRENNAN


Important details first (and reasons later). This afternoon, at 2.30pm in the main hall of the Royal Museum in Chambers Street, Edinburgh, Derevo will perform the final part of The Druid Clock – a free event that, in the face of our frantic scavenging for end-of-year sales bargains, cuts deep into the spiritual heartland and elemental nature of the turning year. Go, and you'll take away images and ideas that will far outlast any cut-price fad.


The Druid Clock is an idiosyncratic dream-work made possible by one of the Scottish Arts Council's 2005 Creative Scotland awards. Eduard Bersudsky, the driving force behind the kinetic sculptures known, collectively, as Sharmanka, had long cherished the possibility of collaborating with Derevo, whom he affectionately hails as fellow "exiles" from St Petersburg. Bersudsky had first come in contact with Anton Adasinskiy and his dance-theatre group some 15 years ago and had immediately sensed an artistic kinship between his own fantastically grotesque, symbolic sculptures and Derevo's intensely physical, profoundly allegorical performances.
Already, in his mind's eye, he could see how the movement and meaning within his sculptures connected with Adasinskiy's judderingly expressive choreography and its recurring themes of conflict between good and evil, damnation and redemption. He hankered after a dialogue between the articulated metal of his artifacts and the responsive bodies of Derevo's dancers but, as he says himself, "there was never a producer crazy enough to invest money into such a risky business".


Years passed. Bersudsky and Sharmanka put down roots in a Glasgow studio, Derevo – from their relocated base in Germany – became an internationally acclaimed touring company. Each time the award-winning company appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe, Bersudsky's thoughts would hark back to the "what if . . . " notion of collaboration. Living and working in Scotland had added new frames of reference to his personal commentary on society past, present and future. Derevo, too, had been exploring other cultures in their work and – like Bersudsky – finding potent common ground across countries and centuries. For even as we increasingly rely on electronic technology to tell us where we are, and even who we are, there still exists an ancient calendar of myths and rituals – the bringing of evergreens into the house at Christmas being one – that influences our behaviour.


The Druid Clock taps into that realm of mystical forces. With Bersudsky's massive Millennium Clock as a backdrop, Derevo unleash the spirits of his sculptures in a dance-work full of wonderful mischief and poignant humanity. They arrive among us in a gust of jazzy circus-fanfares (composed by Daniel Williams). All six are uniformly shaven-headed and (initially) clad in brisk black – only the splodges of white on skin and suits alike suggest they may have risen from some region under-the-ground. Capering and leaping, clambering up the pillars in the museum's stately hall, they embody all the subversive energies of Saturnalia, misrule and yuletide revelry. Once inside the cordon that creates an impromptu performance space, they discover a rope maze and as they trot along its lines, they tease us into a mythic landscape peopled by demons and sprites. The black clothes are cast aside, and near-naked forms in pale tatters emerge to re-enact aspects of long-ago cults – with the "green man" a major player in a pageant that makes a dark, magic poetry out of old Slav and Druid beliefs about life, death and the forest, where souls of the dead were held to enter trees and so be reborn.


As with all Derevo performances, there is a thrilling, seemingly reckless exuberance in the way they cavort at speed. At one point they start to scale the clock, before becoming entwined with a moveable sculpture, The Tree of Life. It's a dazzling amalgam of limbs and armatures, wooden carvings and agile bodies but also a wonderfully intricate mesh of word-play, visual puns and cathartic insights.
The name Derevo means tree. Wood is an integral part of Bersudky's art. The forest is a primal, talismanic force within Scottish and Russian mythologies. His Tree of Life, with its part-human, part-animal sculptures, illustrates not just our physical evolution but also the nature of the beast that lurks within. When Adasinskiy and his dancers curl and contort their frames, they look like Bersudsky's carved grotesques and echo his symbolic intentions with an understanding rooted in that shared experience of St Petersburg days. Change and decay are accepted, because with skill and imagination something new can be created – like the recycled scrap so resourcefully deployed in Bersudsky's sculptures. And when, as in The Druid Clock, those sculptures combine with Derevo's wise mayhem the result is a memorable way of seeing the old year on its way.




CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS, CHAMBER OF HORRORS

 Movement and Shadows, Royal Museum, Edinburgh, until 15 January* * * * 

SUNDAY HERALD

11 December 2005

by Catriona Black


I'm ushered into a dimly-lit room along with a handful of other visitors. We're surrounded by sleeping machinery, lurid green shadows making silhouettes on the walls. A silent organ-grinder stares down at us with his animal eyes. At any moment, he and hundreds of other unnoticed wooden creatures with their scrap-yard mechanisms might spring to life.


It's pretty creepy, so I'm not surprised to see two very young kids crumpling in fear. Their fear turns to tears when the homed creature clanks into action, grinding his clothes ringer to the gravelly singing of Russian exile, Boris Axelrod. This one-legged figure is a self-portrait by the man who made all nine "kinemats" in the show, Eduard Bersudsky. He founded Sharmanka Theatre along with Tatyana Jakovskaya in St Petersburg in the late 1980s. The company, now based in Glasgow's King Street, made the Millennium Clock for Edinburgh's Royal Museum in 1999. Despite the profoundly dark nature of its content, which symbolises the human suffering of the 20th century, the clock has proven to be a consistently popular asset for the Museum.


Every time I see a crowd of toddlers huddled around it, I wonder why their parents have brought them to see the harrowing carvings of rape, torture and religious persecution. The truth is, the children are enchanted by the whirring monkeys and dancing cogs and wheels. This is a peculiarly Eastern European ability, to deliver the most profound horror alongside an innocent playfulness in one powerful package.


Half an hour disappears in an instant, as you are ushered from one kinemat to the next, each taking its turn to light up and perform to music. It's over all too quickly, leaving you little time to linger over individual carvings, but the cumulative effect is enthralling.


At the top of Titanic, a top-hatted monkey-man swings two balls on ropes. The multi-coloured shadows he casts behind and above him are balletic. The dark days of Stalinism are explored in strong visual metaphors such as Crusader, a barbarous collection of weapons on wheels which rolls forward and back, whirring and stabbing.


Movement And Shadows offers a unique combination of innocence and experience. Although there are no carvings quite as explicit as those in the Clock, there are a few pretty scary monsters to negotiate. Parents take heed - under-fives, like the two in my group, will be out the door like a shot.




MAGIC AND THE MACHINE

SCOTSMAN

Sat 26 Nov 2005

by SUSAN MANSFIELD


IN THE HALF LIGHT OF The Sharmanka Gallery, Eduard Bersudsky's magical machines sit in silence, but you can't help feeling that if you turned your back the whole lot might come alive.

And they do come alive. Each at its appointed time, whirring and clanking in an intricate dance to a music all its own. Bersudsky's "kinemats" are less sculptures than performers waiting for their cues.


This winter marks the tenth anniversary of the Sharmanka Gallery (the word is Russian for "street organ"), opened when Bersudsky and his wife Tatyana Jacovskaya made Glasgow their home. They are currently preparing a "kinetic circus" which will tour Scotland for the next year, and readying their latest works for a major exhibition to be held at the Royal Museum of Scotland.

In Edinburgh, Bersudsky's work is perhaps best known through the Millennium Clock in the Royal Museum, an ambitious collaboration with furniture-maker Tim Stead, clockmaker Jurgen Tübbecke and glass artist Annika Sandström. It was a longed-for collaboration with Stead, who died of cancer a few months later.


The exhibition at the Royal Museum will include the fulfilment of Bersudsky's ambition to marry his sculptures with live performance. A Creative Scotland Award made earlier this year funded a collaboration with Fringe First winners Derevo on The Druid Clock, a performance taking place between Christmas and New Year which will use his latest sculpture, Tree of Life.

Bersudsky is a man of few words. He has never learned English, preferring to speak through his sculpture. But his excitement about the project inspired him to break his silence.


"We met [Derevo] in 1990, back in St Petersburg, and they made an impression on me right away," says Bersudsky, with Jacovskaya's son, Sergey, translating. "It was amazing looking at the technology of their bodies and how they control them ... The kinetics that I deal with are mechanical, theirs is physical. I am very eager to see how it works out."

Previous attempts to combine the kinemats with performers foundered because the actors were upstaged by the machines. "Eduard's kinetic sculptures can express that which most live actors cannot," Jacovskaya says. "They can talk about life and death on so many levels. We realised that if somebody can interact with these machines it can only be Derevo, because they train themselves to a level that sometimes feels like superhuman."


She was working as a theatre director and critic in St Petersburg in 1988 when she met Bersudsky. Trained as an electronic engineer, he worked in a series of dead-end jobs while adding to his private menagerie of machines. Jacovskaya decided to devote herself to making his work more widely known.


Working in secret under the Communist regime, his sculptures came straight from his heart. Shaped by ancient myths and tales and by his memories of childhood, they were also haunted by the darker experiences of Russian history. He would later say of the 12 suffering figures in the "belfry" of the Millennium Clock: "To make it took eight weeks and all my previous life in Russia."

The collapse of Communism brought freedom, but spiralling rents. Support of friends and curators in the West, including Julian Spalding of Glasgow Museums, encouraged them to move to Scotland, where Bersudsky's work took on a new lease of life. The ideas poured out as he scavenged for scrap metal - typewriters, bicycles, sewing machine parts - in scrapyards and markets.


They survive on piecemeal grants from the Lottery and Arts Council, and occasional international commissions, drawing a subsistence wage and ploughing the rest back into the sculptures. Sergey, who graduated from the RSAMD in lighting design, looks after the technical side of Sharmanka in his spare time. "We are a family business," says Jacovskaya. "That's how we survive."

"The more I am here, the less I am in Russia," says Bersudsky. He increasingly draws on the mythology of this country. Tree of Life pays tribute to the Celtic idea of an integration between the worlds of humanity, animals and plants which is also common to the mythology of Northern Russia. "You cannot come from one culture and turn yourself into another culture," says Jacovskaya. "But you discover common roots."


Life in Scotland has not been without its struggles. The Millennium Clock was saved in its present location only after a public campaign. Titanic, the enigmatic sculpture which was once a star attraction at GoMA, was returned to the Sharmanka Gallery when GoMA was reorganised. Bersudsky, more medieval master-craftsman than contemporary artist, doesn't fit into prescribed categories.

Jacovskaya says: "A lot of people think that modern art is conceptual, intellectual. It speaks to the head, we speak to the heart. We don't care, we're happy that we are working, surviving. Is it art or not? I don't care! There is no definition, it's just Sharmanka."


  1. Movements and Shadows: The Magic of Sharmanka Theatre is at the Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2 December until 15 January. Sharmanka Kinetic Circus tours to Stornaway, Falkirk, Thurso, Inverness and Kingussie in 2006.




ALL VERY MOVING

Eduard Bersudsky’s Kinetic Art packs an emotional punch in Glasgow

“TIME” (European edition)

Sunday, Jul. 10, 2005

By Michael Brunton


The term outsider art could have been invented for Eduard Bersudsky. In 1958, as a bored Jewish student in Leningrad, his flippant offer to do his work placement "as far away as possible" earned him a lesson on how far that could be in the Soviet Union: a coal mine in Russia 's Arctic north and an army call-up. A stammerer since childhood, Bersudsky was bullied by his colleagues, and he finally stopped speaking entirely. 


At the Sharmanka gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, Bersudsky now exhibits 3-D expressions of his inner torments and the life he led as an artistic outcast after his return to Leningrad in 1961. He began carving wood and tinkering with junk and in 1967 produced his first kinetic sculpture of a barrel-organ grinder. "When he saw how it moved, he could never stop making them again," says Tatyana Jakovskaya, Bersudsky's wife, who met the artist in 1988 when he was still living in Leningrad, in a single room crammed with his sad, mad and satirical moving sculptures. Among them is the 3-m-tall Tower of Babel (1989), slung with flywheels that bring to life scores of tiny wooden figures that frantically turn handles, ring bells or pull each other's strings. From a high pulpit, a tiny Vladimir Lenin urges them on; below, a uniformed Joseph Stalin wields a bloody ax.

Jakovskaya, a theater director, organized his mechanical marvels into a performance called Sharmanka (barrel organ), bathing the works in light, shadow and music, and handing out opera glasses. In the early '90s, artists from Scotland helped Bersudsky, who now speaks again but would rather not, to show Sharmanka abroad and eventually to settle in Glasgow.

Bad memories inform the sculptures he's made ever since — like Titanic (1994), a flapping ship of fools commemorating a friend and former political prisoner who died in Russia in 1994 for want of a blood transfusion — but they have a forward motion to them now, and breathe with the fresh air of life outside the Iron Curtain.

 



RUSSIAN ART REVOLUTION

THE BIG ISSUE IN SCOTLAND

MARCH 10-16, 2005

by Clare Harris 


Tucked away in a side street in Glasgow's city centre is Sharmanka, a menagerie of moving sculptures created by Eduard Bersudsky.

Clare Harris went to meet him and his curator.

 It's an eerie feeling, taking a seat on these worn wooden benches amongst the wood and iron menagerie of Sharmanka, as if the machines only just stopped moving when I walked in the door.

The gallery, up a steep close in Glasgow's  artist-filled King Street, is a breathtaking treasure trove of kinetic, or moving sculptures - what their creator Eduard Bersudsky calls ‘kinemats’.  Bersudsky, who moved to Scotland in 1993 with his partner and gallery curator Tatiana Jakovskaya from post-perestroika Russia, is known worldwide for his intricate, grotesquely beautiful creations.  This year he's been short-listed for the Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Awards for collaboration with Dresden-based theatre company Derevo, on a project that promises to be something even more magical.   


Bersudsky speaks little English and, says   Jakovskaya, after being bullied at school and in the Russian army, prefers not to speak much at all.  Instead, he carves, and now Jakovskaya does her best to explain the work that he does to the curious public.  A theatre critic and producer, she met Bersudsky in their home town of St Petersburg 15 years ago and was so struck by his work, which he was then producing in a stern Stalinist tenement, that she dropped everything to join him.  She's been with the artist ever since.  "For me it's still magic," she says.  "He says the ideas are coming from the heavens, and he says it's the machines that build themselves.  Even I can see when he starts a new piece, that for the first 20 per cent of the time it's like he's working uphill, then the machine takes over and it just takes on a life of its own."


 Bersudsky studied to be an engineer and then worked variously as a lorry driver, a naval skipper, a night watchman - in communist Russia, to be an artist was to put yourself at risk of imprisonment or even death.  He has been described as a medieval clock maker transported into the modem age, an analogy which seems fantastical, but looking at pieces like the Tower of Babel, which whirs and turns like a great universal timepiece populated with all mankind, the comparison rings true.  There is so much more in these creations than meets the eye - they're not simply art, nor are they theatre.  They're a depiction, in miniature, of all the little absurdities of the human condition.  Some, from his years in St Petersburg, show the self-made prisons and impossible constructs of communism.  Others are more prosaic - like Jock's Joke, a tribute to a scrap collector and chimney sweep who Bersudsky became friends with when he first moved to Scotland.


 From the worn pieces of wood, to a pair of old boots, there's life in every part of these machines.  "If he has a choice between using a new wheel or an old one in his work, he'll use the old one,” explains Jakovskaya.  "Everything has some memory about the people who've touched it, a lot of the parts are taken in by people, and they make the strongest pieces.  There's always a story behind them."  When Russia opened up its borders following the fall of communism and the beginning of perestroika, Bersudsky, and his companion travelled for the first time.  It was amazing, says Jakovskaya, to see beautiful cities like Utrecht and Paris.  They went to Charters and visited the famous renaissance cathedral there - and although it was all completely new to them, for Bersudsky, says Jakovskaya, it was as if he'd been there before.  His work had always had very strong gothic influences, with its cathedral-like structures and dark wood statuettes.  But, living in communist Russia, it was a style he hadn't actually ever seen.  "He spent eight hours wandering around the cathedral, and he said it was like he knew it," says Jakovskaya.  "He was absolutely at home.  It was like he'd been the one who built it."  Born to a devout Jewish family, Bersudsky is not a religious man.  His mother, for fear of recrimination, hid her faith from him until her death.  But his work is extremely spiritual.  "Some of his very first pieces," says Jakovskaya, "were made from wood, salvaged from the old Russian churches.  The communist government was destroying the churches, one by one, and a few people like Bersudsky would go and save what they could.  Once, he even made a pillar for a church out in the middle of the woods, to prevent it from falling down completely.  He made the pillar in exactly the way it would have been made in medieval times - and that church is still there, so far out in the woods that the soldiers couldn't find it to destroy it At this point, Bersudsky ambles into the room, small, worn-looking, dressed in a thick woolly jumper to protect against the cold of his studio.  He and Jakovskaya converse in guttural Russian, she tells him that we're talking of the days when spirituality and culture were dirty words in their homeland.  He shakes his head, and for a moment, I think he's going to sit down and join us.  Hanging around, just for a second, he smiles and says to me, 'good luck,' before shuffling quietly back to whatever weird and wonderful creation he's working on behind a door in the corner of the gallery.  


It makes sense that Bersudsky's proposal for the Creative Scotland Award is to work with Russian theatre company Derevo, also exiled from their home country and now living in Dresden, Germany.  If they receive the funding they need, the plan is to create a show that centres around the ancient Celtic beliefs that spread across the whole of Northern Europe, from where Russia would have been in the east, to Scotland in the west.  The collaboration would be called The Druid Clock, and would see dancers interacting with his kinetic sculptures to tell the stories of ancient Europe and its mythology, with research carried out in the old woods of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.


If all this comes off, it could be a busy year for Bersudsky and Jakovskaya.  At the moment, they're also applying for funding from the National Gallery to take Sharmanka on a tour of smaller Scottish towns - an adventure which is harder than it sounds, as it would mean dismantling each sculpture they want to transport, squeezing it into the tiny lift on King Street, and rebuilding it at each stop.  The aim is, says Jakovskaya, to get the kinemats to places they've never been seen before -and it's also to make sure they remain on public display, as the building they're currently in is due to close for two years for renovations.  After that, Sharmanka, along with other local artist-run organisations like Street Level and the Print Studio, will move next door to a purposely-rebuilt artists' hub.


It's evident that the couple feels comfortable in their adopted home.  They originally moved to Scotland at the invitation of carpenter Tim Stead (who built Sharmanka's wooden benches and with whom Bersudsky collaborated on the National Museum's Millennium Clock), and his wife Maggy, who'd come across Bersudsky's first Sharmanka theatre on a visit to St Petersburg.  But, Jakovskaya admits, "we discovered that if we I could choose we couldn't have chosen a better place to be than Europe.”  The Scottish people, who Bersudsky believes are close to a past where they worked with their hands, and to one of the few truly wild landscapes in Europe, are similar to the Russians.  "And," she laughs, "Glasgow's a place where you can be a little bit crazy, if you want.  If you had this gallery in the centre of London, we may think that the art world was the whole world.  In Scotland, you just can’t do that!"


With that, I leave the resting machines and head outside to the street.  Looking back, it's not a world away at all, more a magnified cross-section of all humanity up there, creaking away in iron and wood, brought to life in the hands of a silent, smiling man from Russia. 




Bell that never rang...now rings

EVENING TIMES, Glasgow

by John McCann


FOR centuries it was the bell that never rang - now the people of Glasgow are in for a rude awakening.
For the Patron Saint of the city, St Mungo, is finally to be allowed to ring the bell!
And if that was not headspinning enough, a new statue also tears up the Glasgow Coat of Arms by having swimming fish and flying birds.
The 'living' version of the legend of St Mungo has been built at the Tron Steeple overlooking busy Argyle Street.
The 6ft 4in statue will perform on the hour when St Mungo will ring the bell.
The fish swims and the bird, perched on the the figure's crozier flaps its wings.
And the kinetic art, which is part of a £400,000 scheme to restore the A-listed building is expected to become one of the best tourist attractions in the city, according to Alison Tanner, assistant director of the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, who commissioned the work.


The statue, which is getting its finishing touches, was initially created in wood by Russian artists Eduard Bersudsky and Tatyana Jakovskaya, who work together under the name Sharmanka.

It was then cast in bronze by blacksmith Andrew Sillars and will stand in the upper window of the west elevation, just under the clock face.
Mr Sillars said: "Most of their work is designed for indoors but because of the Scottish weather we had to make it in bronze so it will last.
"It's a great attraction and it will be even more striking when the fibre-optic lights on the structure lights up."

The sculpture was commissioned by Glasgow Buildings Preservation Trust.
Ms Tanner added: "It's fantastic to finally have a major piece of work like this in Glasgow, especially since it is the first of its kind in Scotland."

 



USSR's GRIM LEGACY TO ART

Thu 22 May 2003

by CLAIRE SMITH


THE suffering of the Russian people under the Soviet regime is the theme of the latest group of sculptures from the self-taught, visionary artist, Eduard Bersudsky.

Bersudsky, who has been based in Glasgow since 1996, uses reclaimed scrap metal and parts of industrial machinery to create his Hieronymous Bosch-style sculptures. Acclaimed for his work on the popular Millennium Clock in the Royal Museum of Scotland, Bersudsky’s Sharmanka Gallery in Glasgow’s King Street has been called "the best hidden treasure of the city".

Bersudsky’s latest work, Crusader, is the most recent addition to a group of sculptures exploring the dark history of the Russian people. In the travelling exhibition "Without Sanctuary: Life and Death in Russia under and after the Communist Regime", Bersudsky examines the stories of those whose lives were blighted or lost in the USSR. He dedicates his exhibition to the thousands of Russian people who tried to escape after the revolution, only to be returned to the country after the end of the Second World War.

Hundreds of tiny carved figures made of scrap iron represent the persecution and suffering of those killed by Stalin’s secret police, while comic touches celebrate the triumph of the human spirit in the face of totalitarianism.

Bersudsky said: "While working, I thought about a friend of mine, a small brave woman who spent four years in prison and exile because she read forbidden books. She fell badly ill after that and we invited her to Scotland to try to save her. Everybody here did their best to help: Amnesty International, doctors and nurses in the Edinburgh Western Infirmary, just ordinary people. It seemed she had won her fight for life.

"She went back to Russia and died within two month because there was no blood in the hospital for the transfusion she needed."




RING THE BELL

SCOTSMAN

Monday, 6th January 2003

by Jim Gilchrist


When the unique vision of a Russian kinetic sculptor collides with Celtic hagiography and Glasgow folklore, you’d expect the result to be something out of the ordinary and you’d be right. The extraordinary becomes commonplace within the precincts of the Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery in Glasgow, where the "kinemats" of Russian émigré Eduard Bersudsky tootle and whirl in a Gothic fairground extravaganza of assembled scrap and inspired woodcarving.


Now Bersudsky is constructing a kinetic sculpture of Glasgow’s patron saint, Mungo, to be installed on the city’s 17th-century Tron Steeple. And as the sculpture marks the hour, it will exorcise the hoary old rhyme:


Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam ...


For as the saint’s craggy head nods sagely, picked out in shifting coloured lights and shadows, the bird perched on his crosier will flap its wings, the bell will ring and the fish will leap at his feet, while the tree flourishes in a metallic canopy.


"We knew the legend and were fascinated by the old rhyme - why shouldn’t the bird fly or the bell ring," says Bersudsky’s wife and artistic partner, Tatiana Jacovskaya, as the three of us take coffee among the looming gewgaws and fantastical figures of his creations - "Heath-Robinson meets Hieronymus Bosch", as they have been described. We’re sitting at a beautifully carved table on show from the workshop of the late Tim Stead, the woodcarver, furniture maker and kindred spirit with whom Bersudsky created the Millennium Clock, which still draws crowds in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.


Sharmanka (the name is Russian for "barrel organ") won a competition for the design run by the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, which is involved in the restoration of the old steeple, adjunct to what is now the Tron Theatre. The building is just around the corner from the King Street premises the kinetic theatre has occupied since Bersudsky and Jacovskaya arrived in Glasgow from St Petersburg in 1995.


They had hoped the sculpture would be finished and installed by 13 January - St Mungo’s day - but complications with the steeple’s restoration mean that the saint is unlikely to be bestowing his austere blessings on the passing throng until February at least.


Bersudsky’s interpretation of Mungo - or Kentigern, as he is also known - has been influenced by his love of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, by old town clocks, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Kells and Orthodox icons, as well as by Pictish carvings, some of which are contemporaneous with the saint, who is thought to have died in AD603. He and Jacovskaya visited Iona, Staffa, and Lindisfarne, on a pilgrimage of sorts, for it was as "a passionate wanderer" that they wanted to interpret Mungo.


Initially Bersudsky visualised a modest timber figure that would emerge from a first-floor window, rather like a cuckoo clock. However, the window proved unsuitable and they turned their attention to a second-floor window for which a much larger figure would be required. Glasgow City Council earmarked an oak trunk for the purpose, but last year’s sodden summer - which seriously flooded the King Street gallery - convinced them that a timber figure would not fare well in such conditions.


The final figure, still being assembled, has a bronze head, hands and feet, cast from oak originals carved by Bersudsky, while its body is made from Dexion framework. Blacksmith Bryony Knox was recruited to construct the leafy canopy, while Patrick Elsdale has devised lighting which, says Jacovskaya, shifts colours and shadows across the saint’s quite intimidating features.


The emergence of these ascetic features and robust hands and feet from stubborn oak was no easy business, Bersudsky explains, with his wife translating: "The oak is very hard wood and you have to fight him to cut away all which is not necessary. Only when you get the head out of the trunk, almost at the end, can you just add some accent or soften something."


Is he happy with the result? The Russian shrugs. "Maybe no, maybe yes," he says, in a rare excursion into English. It is the saint’s feet with which he is most satisfied: they are the feet of a wanderer, one of a host of Celtic missionaries who peregrinated throughout Europe, including pagan Russia. The hands, too, are those of a man who ploughed his own fields - according to legend, yoking a stag and a wolf to his plough to do so.


The final installation is expected to cost some £25,000, not counting maintenance funding, which is still to be found. The GBPT came up with £15,000 and further assistance came from the nearby Café Gandolfi (where Bersudsky’s original timber model of the saint can be seen) and the local blacksmith, AL Sillars, both of whose sponsorships were matched by the Arts and Business New Partners scheme. The Gordon Fraser Trust is paying for the bronze-casting costs.


Last year was an eventful one for Sharmanka. They were invited to exhibit in the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem, where they drew 50,000 visitors. "We were very happy to be there," Jacovskaya says of a city we tend to associate with suicide bombings and violent recriminations. "It’s not all what you see on television. It’s an absolutely fantastic science museum, where Jews and Arabs work together. Our exhibition was viewed by groups from Arab schools, Israeli soldiers, religious Jews …"


And she points enthusiastically to a large poster for the show, in four languages - English, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew - which they plan to mount in the Glasgow gallery as an object lesson in concord, appropriately beside a skeletal assembly called Crusader, whose empty, bell-brained head is Bersudsky’s comment on the malaise of bigotry.


Meanwhile, Sharmanka’s installation at the London Theatre Museum has been extended until next September due to popular response. Oddly enough, it is the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, home to several Bersudsky pieces, that seems to be divesting itself of them. Yet Titanic, Bersudsky’s eccentrically flapping ship of fools, dedicated to the memory of a victim of Russian political oppression, is one of the most crowd-stopping exhibits there.


At the centre of it all, King Street, now reopened after last summer’s flooding, is becoming crammed with Bersudsky’s inimitable machines. "The place is getting like a furniture shop," complains Jacovskaya.


While sympathising, one can’t help thinking: some furniture, some shop.



 

SO MUCH MORE THEN PUPPETRY IN MECHANICAL CREATIONS

The TIMES

FRI 30 AUG 2002
JOHN RUSSELL TAYLOR


EDUARD BERSUDSKY set up his Sharmanka theatre in Leningrad in 1989, at the high tide of perestroika and on the eve of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Perfect timing, you might think. A robotic ballet featuring Stalin as an axe murderer and Lenin orating from a pulpit set among a menagerie straight out of Bosch: such satirical flourishes would hardly have been welcomed before the advent of Gorbachev, but now, surely, the way was clear for irreverence and
unfettered fantasy. In theory, yes, but in practice Bersudsky's enterprise was soon scuppered, not by politics, but by the economics of the new Russia.


Before you could say St Petersburg, inflation had ensured that the rent of the erstwhile kindergarten that housed Sharmanka (literally "barrel-organ") had rocketed to the extent that the show could notafford to continue there. Enter, improbably, Glasgow. Julian Spalding, then Director of Glasgow's Museums and Galleries,had visited the theatre in St Petersburg and been so enthused by it that he had acquired three of Bersudsky's kinetic sculptures for his
Gallery of Modern Art.


At the same time, another admirer from Scotland, the woodcarver and furniture- maker Tim Stead, invited Bersudsky and his wife and artistic partner Tatiana Jakovskaya to relocate their activities to
the vicinity of his workshop in the Border village of Blainslie. Stead and Bersudsky set up a creative collaboration, Bersudsky concentrating on recycling scrap metal, Stead recuperating rejected wood.


By 1995 Bersudsky and Jakovskaya had found a derelict warehouse in Glasgow and opened to a broadly based and generally enthusiastic audience of puppet and ballet fans, DIY enthusiasts and children of all ages.
Works then created form the basis of the show that has now landed at London's Theatre Museum. Among them also is the single work that most dramatically raised Bersudsky's profile in Britain or, more specifically, in Scotland: the Tower of Babel originally commissioned from him and Stead as a millennium clock for the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It nearly had more dramatic consequences still, as shortly after its unveiling Bersudsky, then 59, suffered a stroke and Stead succumbed to cancer. But Bersudsky has bounced back
from his own illness and the premature death of his colleague and friend, and created two new pieces for the London showing.
Inevitably the old question arises: But is it Art? At least the London venue makes it easier to avoid unprofitable debate: whether or not Bersudsky's kinetic sculptures count as art -Julian Spalding


certainly thinks so -they are undeniably theatre, and very gripping theatre at that. They can be compared on the one hand to the kinetic sculptures of artists such as Jean Tinguley and his wife Nikki de St Phalle, and on the other to the Animatronics of early rides in Disneyland. But, being Russian, they have also strong links with the world of Petrushka and the whole local tradition of satirical puppet plays and folk drama.


Such influences apparently dominated the work Bersudsky was originally doing in Russia. Jakovskaya remembers that when she first encountered him he was working in complete privacy, even secrecy, creating his mechanical puppets in his tiny tenement flat, with no fewer than 12 crammed into a room about 18m square. Since he was by training and practice a woodcarver and electrical engineer, the figures were primarily of wood, but since the move to Britain there have been changes: nowadays he is more likely to be recycling urban junk.
This brings him more into the area of Picasso's sculptures made from found objects like bicycle seats. And indeed, the spectres of long- demolished bicycles and sewing machines stalk among Bersudsky's jogging, juddering robots, supported by the innards of dismantled pianos and cogs from outdated mangles. Chaos theory does not seem so far removed, after all, from the dark fantasies of the Inklings and the Brothers Grimm.


The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is at the Theatre Museum, 1E Tavistock
Street, London WC2 (020-7943 4700) until February 23, 2003



 

CLOCKING CREATION

SCOTSMAN

19 December 2000

by Jim Gilchrist


You know you're leaving the ordinary behind, back outside in Glasgow's King Street, as soon as you climb the stair that leads up to the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, to be greeted at the top by the establishment's doorbell-cum-burglar-alarm, a sardonic, mechanical crow. Then you step into the incredible world of mechanic-sculptor Eduard Bersudsky.


As the lights dim, first to come to jerky life are the organ grinders - sharmanka, after all, means "barrel organ" in Russian - but they are soon joined by the tinkling of bells, a churning of organ music and the gyrations of countless carved and mechanical figures, inhabitants of a weird world in which the grotesque, the witty, the lewdly macabre and the utterly fantastical come clanking to life.


But this isn't just a nostalgic excursion into toyland, gothic indulgence or Russian folklore. Among these Hieronymus Bosch demons and gargoyle-like drolleries, you'll find Stalin wielding an axe, Lenin haranguing from a pulpit; elsewhere, a Christ-like figure hangs in chains while, in the adjacent sculpture, black-hatted orthodox Jews bicker within their precariously leaning tower. These are the products of a unique genius who works from no plans but is driven to assemble "kinemats", as he calls them, from scrap. He insists that he doesn't make them, but simply "helps them into existence".


Bersudsky's largest project, and one of his best known, is the mighty Millennium Clock he built in collaboration with the late Tim Stead, and other craft artists - that gothic Tower of Babel whose chimes have been drawing the crowds in Edinburgh's Royal Museum of Scotland for a year now. Possibly Europe's second-largest kinetic sculpture, the clock wasn't built without cost: Bersudsky suffered a minor stroke during its construction, but resumed work on it while Stead, who died from cancer in April, put off chemotherapy treatment, so intent were both men on the project. Bersudsky's wife, artistic partner and gallery administrator Tatiana Jakovskaya has been notified by the museum that as from next August the clock must find another home. And while she concedes that it was never meant as a permanent fixture, her own survey of visitors to the Chambers Street museum found that 82 per cent wanted it to stay. She argues that it will cost £15,000 to dismantle and a further £25,000 to install elsewhere, yet Sharmanka could maintain it there for some £2,500 a year.


For his part, Mark Jones, director of the National Museums of Scotland, while acknowledging the clock's popularity, doesn't see it becoming a permanent part of the museum's collections and thinks there are funds to enable it to be shown elsewhere. "We're really pleased with it, but its success doesn't mean we should assume it will be there for ever. It should be seen outside Edinburgh as well."


If the clock's future remains in some doubt, Sharmanka has been going from strength to strength, having just been awarded a Lottery Fund grant of £58,000 to continue sessions that have already brought hundreds of school pupils, including many special needs children, to the gallery. And three days ago, the couple signed the forms that will grant them British citizenship.


Sharmanka has come a long way since it was founded in St Petersburg in 1989, using the premises of a former kindergarten. It seemed set to flourish under perestroika, but instead, while the new Russia granted a liberal approach to art that would have been unthinkable under the social-realist diktats of the communists, the disastrous economic aftermath rendered Sharmanka homeless after its rent escalated impossibly.


Already, however, they had friends in the west: Julian Spalding, then director of Glasgow's museums and galleries, was overwhelmed by a visit to the St Petersburg theatre-gallery and bought sculptures for Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Similarly mesmerised were Tim Stead, the innovative woodcarver and furniture-maker, and his wife Maggy Lenert, and it was they who invited Bersudsky and Jakovskaya to settle in the Scottish Border village of Blainslie, where Stead had his workshop. The two men enjoyed a creative relationship which transcended language barriers: Tatiana speculates whether in another life, perhaps, Stead and Bersudsky were "like two wild bears in the forest. Eduard made things from rejected scrap and Tim made things from rejected wood."


Bersudsky and Jakovskaya moved into the derelict warehouse in Glasgow in 1995. The Dear Green Place suits them, says Tatiana. "Here in Glasgow, they love crazy people," she pronounces, with some feeling. The likes of puppetry and kinetic art authority John Blundall regard Bersudsky's work of international importance, yet Bersudsky, a former electrical engineer and woodcarver, creates for himself. When Tatiana, a former theatre critic and director first heard of him, he was neither exhibiting nor following any commercial imperatives. When she first walked into his tiny flat, she found it crammed with 12 of his sculptures. "There was a definite smell of sulphur and the fourth dimension," she recalls. "The whole universe, or a theatre, or possibly both at once, were there in that room of approximately 18 square metres."


For visiting children - and their elders - as they sit on the burr-elm benches that are a legacy from the creative friendship with Stead (whose untimely death left the Russian devastated), the Sharmanka provides a salutary lesson in creativity from scratch. Former Clyde shipyard workers bring their grandchildren, says Tatiana, delightedly. "They say, look what you can do with your hands. So many children are used only to pressing computer buttons."


Now 61, Bersudsky is a man of few words who prefers to let his sculptures express his ideas. During my visit to the gallery, he declines to appear. He has, after all, been working until three that morning, attaching a small bear to a wheel on his current project, The Ark, a large and typically Bersudskyan creation - though perhaps less dark than some - of wheels and animal skulls and a crew of gyrating beasts.

The Ark will find a place in the gallery, or perhaps elsewhere, but also pending is a collaboration with the Belfast-based composer Brian Irvine, who is entranced by the Sharmanka sculptures and has already written and recorded music inspired by them. The proposed construction of a purpose-built kinetic sculpture, Orchestrion, to perform as part of Irvine's ensemble, hangs on a Creative Scotland award for which Sharmanka has been short-listed.


Pigeon-holers and some critics still have difficulty with Bersudsky's work. "Let it be modern art, let it be craft, let it be engineering ... I don't know," says Tatiana, who is prompted to draw certain parallels with the old Soviet Union, where the establishment recognised only approved "social realist" art: "Here, the critics say that modern art is like this and this and this ... but Eduard's work fits into no categories."

Julian Spalding has likened him to "a medieval clockmaker come to life in our times", and certainly one's immediate comparisons tend to be with Middle-Ages iconography and gargoyles. Tatiana agrees, pointing to the cathedral-builders of Europe - "but were they artists or craftsmen or what? Which brings us to Ruskin," she chuckles.


Life is a lot better, but it is still not easy. Bersudsky and Jakovskaya have a council flat, but they tend to stay in the gallery to forestall break-ins. In the meantime, the National Lottery grant means that legions of children and adults will continue to file onto those burr-elm benches as the lights go down and, with a gothic flourish, the unique vision of Eduard Bersudsky will come to life yet again.

Just a few streets away, in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, in one of the pieces which Spalding commissioned, Karl Marx himself cranks the handle of history to a Calliope tootle while in the cage opposite, a ghastly, skull-headed dictator stirs. The history of the 20th century, says Tatiana, shaking her head, was not good, and it is the agony of that century you're seeing in the danse macabre enacted by so much of Bersudsky's work, and by the 12 tortured figures which revolve round the Millennium Clock.


For all their gothic cartoon capers, Bersudsky's creations convey a huge burden of pain. Historical or personal, you might ask. Both, says Tatiana. "Oh, it's Russian, basically. For children, it's Halloween; for Russians, it's Stalin and Lenin."


And should you regard these wonderfully inventive automatons as the quaint products of an oppressive but safely removed foreign culture, Tatiana will remind you of the first time she witnessed an Orange walk in Glasgow last year - "It was scary; the same kind of crowd you'd get at a Jewish pogrom in Russia" - and she points to another sculpture, The Crusader, with a bell in his empty head and a cross dangling meaninglessly below; or you need think no further than the beautifully carved pieta that tops the Millennium Clock, an eternal symbol of human suffering.


An icon-painter for our times, this artist of few words captures the human condition in his own, utterly unique vocabulary.

 



RUSSIA’S TRUE ARTISTS IGNORED

St.Petersburg Times

By Jo Durden-Smith


IN the late 80s and early 90s, gallery owners poured into Moscow and St. Petersburg in search of artists to feed the Western public's sudden appetite for all things Russian. They got (by and large) exactly what they came for: installationists, Eastern imitators of Western art glimpsed in magazines and ironic meditators on Soviet history and kitsch. The art they took back to the West was political and ephemeral: it was entirely Soviet. And now it has no value.


What the gallery owners ignored at the time - in their rush for the fashionable - was any kind of art with older, odder, deeper roots. They thought it merely decorative; they didn't understand it at all. And so they missed the opportunity of introducing to the West, not only true originals like the kinemat-maker Eduard Bersudsky (now living in Glasgow), but also the pulse of that sinister, old, eternal Russia which the Soviets never quite managed to destroy.


This old Russia - enshrined in folk-tales and myths, for example - is not Soviet at all. It is an old and grim carnival: a terrible, god-haunted funfair machine. Drunks and holy fools are its prophets; tyrants its historians; surrealism its poetry; and Ivan Grozny its patron saint. As Peter the Great once said, "Russia is a country in which things that just don't happen, happen."

Gogol is the poet laureate of this Russia - which still remains largely unknown in the West; Chagall, its one painter of the real. Crazed Byzantine priests and Kremlin hermits are the ghostly barkers at the carnival, the spectral whippers-on of Russia's jerry-built road-show machinery towards a New Jerusalem.


The problem with artists who work within this timeless (almost medieval) Russian tradition is that they're virtually untranslatable into any other national idiom or taste. They're also ignored by their own countrymen. The extraordinary writer Andrei Platonov, for example - who was said to have worked as a porter at the Writers Union building in Moscow, while writers not fit to shine his shoes hogged it inside - was not published in his lifetime, and has never (I'm told) been satisfactorily translated into any other language.


The painter Chesnokov - a second Chagall, discovered, after his death, in a tiny village in the Kostroma area - is still virtually unknown to Russians, let alone to the West. Eduard Bersudsky, the kinemat-maker, lived in silence and abject poverty in St. Petersburg.

And worse - much worse - Yury Norstein wasn't allowed to work at all at his art for eight long years. Norstein is a film animator, probably the greatest in the world. In 1984, his "Tale of Tales" was voted the best animated film of all time by a gathering of international film-critics. And yet, just two years after that, he was thrown out of his studio at Soyuzmultfilm and was totally unable to work on what many believe to be his (still unfinished) masterpiece: a black-and-white animated version of Gogol's "The Overcoat."


It's extremely difficult to summarize just what it is about Norstein's work that makes him an authentic - and authentically Russian - genius. He has drawn on Russian folk-tales (The Heron and the Crane, The Fox and the Hare); he cites as major influences Russian icons, Eastern art, the Bible and Chekhov. His work - with its preoccupation with spaces and objects of memory - has been compared to that of the film director Andrei Tarkovsky.


But perhaps it's Norstein's obstinate and painstaking preoccupation with depth, truth and craft - whatever his subjects - which marks him out as a supreme artist. In a 25-year period, he has made (I think) just 5 1/2 films. And yet when an offer for all his past and future work came from Hollywood shortly after he'd lost his studio - and with it any chance of continuing "The Overcoat" - he refused. He said that he had been a serf to communism all his life, and he wasn't ever going to be a serf again, even if he had to starve. (My wife was present at this meeting.)


Yury Norstein is now finally back at work on "The Overcoat," with the help of French and British money. But he still doesn't have enough money to complete it. Surely it's now time for the government to step in, to protect and promote such national art treasures - or better yet, perhaps, those new magnates, made rich in our current Time of Troubles. What we need today is a Russian version of the MacArthur Foundation: the Berezovsky Foundation or the Gusinsky. Given the pace of change, it may well be the only way their names - unlike Norstein's, Platonov's, Bersudsky's and other great and truly Russian artists - will ever be remembered by future generations.

PRESS