Press the Pedal Again
Piper, Eduard Bersudsky, 2013
You press the pedal at the base of Eduard Bersudsky’s sculpture Piper (2013). The shadow on the wall moves, the cogs begin to hum, the little bell rings, and the pair of gendered fauns flex their legs to activate the dog typist at the typewriter hammering out memos lost to history. Tip, tap, tippity-tap, its tail sways, and the muscular fauns leer. They have wolves’ heads, just as the humanoid pair animating the giant buggy face is monkey-headed. They make the face smile, his eyes move this way and that, and his pipe — crikey, there’s a bird in his pipe! — go up and down. And are those tiny feline-ursine centurions armed with shields guarding the Piper, and what are they guarding it from? Unless, of course, this is a Jungian dream of the unconscious where beasts and innocents are deliciously free to copulate, poke fun at authority, snack on bugs, and squeak instead of talk?
But these are rhetorical questions, because what matters here is the depth of your feeling. Faced by Bersudsky’s work, you’re stabbed with sorrow at the futility of the human endeavour and yet waves of belly laughter ripple through you. This magical spectacle seems, without words, to be telling you something essential, and you can’t stop pressing the pedal.
It helps that you are standing inside a Gothic church deep in the Scottish Highlands, and that the church is Kilmorack Gallery — a secular shrine to the sublime, where art is God. But Bersudsky, the artist who painstakingly carved these figures and, like a magician-alchemist, animated them with a hidden mechanism, doesn’t care for such big words as God, Politics, History, or even Art. In fact, he doesn’t much care for words, full stop. Once, he stopped speaking for two years.
When I’m writing, dancing, learning to play the accordion, fooling around with the dog, or making a salad — all forms of play — I’m happily entranced. I can’t lie or be lied to when I’m at the source of creation. When I’m out in the world, virtually or literally, my ego fanned out in desperation like a peacock in mating season, I am distracted by the glitter of worldly promise. This is when the rot of adult delusion sets in. It’s a form of insanity.
How to avoid this fracture of the integral self? How to stop ourselves surrendering to the cynicism of a corrupt world, with its self-trumpeting dictators, maniacs disguised as gurus, and con men with fortunes and painted clown’s smiles? Meeting Eduard and Tatyana has shown me one way: if you have an inner sanctuary, you have less need to make spectacular outings in your emperor’s new clothes.