Fairytales are brought to life in the workshop

Sharmanka is a place where industry meets art, mechanics meet fairy tales and the boundaries between dreams and real life blur beyond recognition

It’s over 20 years since Sharmanka (meaning ‘barrel organ’ in Russian) opened its doors in Glasgow, but artist mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, gallery director Tatyana Jakovskaya and Tatanya’s son Sergey are still sharing their highly original brand of kinetic theatre with the world.

Currently on display in China, Eduard’s magnificent moving sculptures are also headed to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway and to An Lanntair in Stornoway as part of the Festival of Harris Tweed. Along with Sergey, Eduard is currently transforming an old Hattersley weaving loom, which was found on the Isle of Lewis, into an impressive mechanical artwork, replete with his trademark carved creatures and moving parts.

But Sharmanka’s story began long before its arrival in Glasgow. The museum was founded in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1989. Eduard began his career training to be an electrician and spent time digging missile silos in the frozen north of the former Soviet Union.

On his return to Leningrad in 1961 he began to create sculptures – as he had as a child – filling his rented room with carvings which could only have come from his wildest dreams. At the same time he started to play around with motors and switches, enabling his scrap and wood creations to move for the first time.

It was 1987 when Eduard first met theatre director Tatyana through a mutual friend. Riding the wave of creative freedom facilitated by perestroika, Sharmanka opened its doors to an unsuspecting public soon after.

It was through friendship with Scottish artist, the late Tim Stead – with whom Eduard created the Millennium Clock which is on permenant display in the National Museum of Scotland – that Tatyana and Eduard ended up in Scotland. After spending several years in Blainslie in the Borders they made the move to Glasgow and Sharmanka has gone from strength to strength.

It’s tricky to describe Sharmanka and Eduard’s art. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why he speaks very little English. Or perhaps, as Tatyana says, ‘he is just happy alone in his workshop with his tools’.

Coming from Russia, where the old wooden furniture that he needed to create kinemats was being thrown out on to the street in favour of stark contemporary plastic designs, Eduard was shocked to find that in Scotland these pieces were considered antiques and were very expensive. In the Borders he befriended scrap merchants in order to find old machinery to create with.

‘Eduard was gobsmacked by the beauty of British design,’ says Tatyana. ‘In Russia machinery was only ever made to be strong, but here it had strength and beauty.’

The theatre is filled with pieces formed from scrap and carved wood which move in synchonisation with an impressive light show and haunting soundtrack. A brand new set of mechanical kinemats have been installed this year. Merry-Go-World stands proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Eduard’s original pieces.

This feature was originally published in September 2016.