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(RHS) Fish by Matt Smith

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre on the pier

For the first time, internationally famous Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is bringing a fascinating and extraordinary exhibition of automata to Hastings pier, including enchanting mechanical moving toys and other beautifully engineered inventions from their collection. Zelly Restorick asks owner, operator, curator and Bexhill resident, Sarah Alexander, about the exhibition.

“It’s impossible not to be impressed and in some cases, stunned, by the genius and beautiful mechanics of the automata.” Time Out, London.

Tell us about the inspiration for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre (CMT).

CMT was founded by my mother, Sue Jackson, in 1979 in a small shop in Falmouth, Cornwall, from where she turned the Victorian diversionary craft of automata-making into an art form and eventually a global success.

20. The_DeadSeabyKeithNewstead_previewWhat is CMT’s mission?

We aim to delight and inspire audiences around the world. Although the automata are engaging, they have wisdom to impart in terms of their mechanical ingenuity.

When are you due at Hastings Pier?

Automata on the Pier opens on 15 March and will be open free to the public every day until 15 April including the Easter holidays. It’s been an exciting time gathering together the 20 exhibits from our Cabaret Mechanical collection to bring to Hastings. They’ve been travelling throughout Europe and China over the last couple of years and have attracted huge, appreciative audiences.

What will you be doing on the pier?

We are exhibiting our automata, mechanical toys which come to life at the touch of a button, the drop of a coin or the turn of a handle. We’ve also been working with local groups in a wide-reaching community project and their work will be included in the exhibition.

10. SpaghettiEaterbyPaulSpooner_previewAre the exhibits humorous?

Many of the exhibits are hilarious. Paul Spooner’s man in the bath learning how to eat spaghetti, for example. They often reflect a particular British eccentric sense humour, which has a broad and timeless appeal.

Where do you find your craftsmen and engineers?

My mother Sue knew Ron Fuller from her time at Falmouth School of Art and Peter Markey was the art teacher at our local school. Artists Paul Spooner and Matt Smith joined CMT in the early days in Falmouth and when we moved to Covent Garden in London, the word spread and other artists such as Keith Newstead and Carlos Zapata found us. All their work will feature at the exhibition, alongside pieces by Kazu Harada, John Lumbus and Pierre Mayer.

What skills are needed to make automata?

Engineering and artist skills are needed, but all artists work differently. I think the ability to tell a story within the piece is important.

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander Photo Jean Clark

What’s your involvement?

My mother, Sue, and I worked together after Cabaret’s move to Covent Garden in 1984 and although she retired in 2012, she was still very much involved with the business.

Sadly she died suddenly in 2016, but her incredible legacy in founding the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre still thrives.

Tell us about your work around the world.

For the last 25 years, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre has been touring the world and we’ve been to science centres, art galleries and museums in the USA, China, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and extensively in Europe. Automata are highly collectable and desirable works of art and we have customers in every country we’ve visited.

Orinoco's Piranhas by Carlos Zapata

Orinoco’s Piranhas by Carlos Zapata

What other events are happening alongside the exhibition?

Tim Hunkin, the designer, Novelty Automation owner and inspiration behind Southwold’s satirical Under the Pier Show, famous for its slot machines and simulator rides, will be giving a talk entitled The Changing Fortunes of Amusement Arcades on 12 April at 6.30 pm. Tim will explore the history of the genre from its, “humble beginning as seaside entertainment to worldwide domination and hopes of revival.” Birch Room, Hastings Pier. Admission £5.

How to Make Automata: various dates; from £2 to £5. Throughout the month-long exhibition, Hastings Pier will be hosting a number of family workshops, where children will be taught how to make their own automata by local artists and teachers.

Craftivist Automata Community Day, Saturday 24 March, 1.30-4.30pm, free. A celebration of the community project led by Culture Shift and The Craftivist Network alongside people from Active Arts, Boathouse Theatre, Autism Sussex, Hastings and Bexhill MENCAP, Parchment Trust, Seaview and South Down’s Wellbeing Centre in Bexhill. This will be a chance for friends, family and members of the public to view all of the exhibits made as part of the project, accompanied by music, performance, entertainment and refreshments.

* * *

Automata on the Pier is a collaboration between Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, Hastings Pier and the community interest arts company, Culture Shift, as well as featuring creations by members of the Craftivist Network, a consortium of local community organisations.

A wide reaching community project is also running alongside the exhibition, which includes workshops for 400 families and 150 schoolchildren, as well as a two-month mentoring scheme for people from seven community groups who are making their own automata pieces for the exhibition.

CMT Logo barecat-new_previewWant to see some of the amazing automata? Check out this link to the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre’s Youtube channel.

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre exhibition: 15 March to 15 April on Hastings Pier. Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission free.

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre website.

Hastings Pier website.

Culture Shift website.

Craftivists website.



Posted 15:50 Wednesday, Feb 28, 2018 In: Arts News

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