Finding Form at Vancouver’s Shapeshifter Studios

By Alli Hayes
@bunnie604

As I walk up to Flakey Studios, an industrial building block painted a gun metal grey, just off the north tip of Commercial Drive, suspense of a new place stirs. The flat fronts of these creative mines give little to the imagination before entering the maze of enriched artist studios. My good friend Char Loro, who is constantly evolving into beaming rays of energy, has just touched the finishings with her studio partner in crime Dianna David, and I’m entering the sacred ShapeShifterStudio(SSS) to meet David for the first time. That’s the nice thing about new friends, you get to meet new friends of friends.

Loro lets me in on the roots of how the word ShapeShifter emerged.

“The day we came up with the name for the studio…it was a hot April day last year on the back deck, we were sketching and talking names when I asked sis [Dianna] what she thought of the name ShapeShifterStudio. We’re both shape shifters. We’ve lived in different places in the world over time, and we’ve always adapted and shape shifted to our environments. We’ve lived such different lives to every place we’ve been and now coming back to Vancouver we were also shifting our form yet again. I feel like it really resembles the two of us. We’re both Cancers, we’re both 10 years apart, we just kept [repeating the term] shape shifter.”

David shares a little bit about the more mythological side of the shapeshifter. It’s a reoccurring theme in most folklore tales around the world; immortals constantly changing form (mostly into animals) due to their actions or relations with others.

“At one point… I was always drifting from personality to personality and then [my fiancé at the time, she’s very mystical] learned more about the mythological sense of the word, shape shifting. She told me I was a shape shifter, and I freaked out in my defence,” David explains.

“She called me out, ” she laughs. “But then I see [Char] shape shifting, cause we’re like mirror images, a decade apart, that’s why we get each other so well.”

SSS is a serene room filled with the memories of travel and love. Collections of South-East Asian tapestries hung on the walls, turn tables, a cluster of Persian rugs and cushions, a built-in loft which can serve as a bunk and a soon-to-be recording booth underneath. It’s a quiet paradise. Long mirrors trail one side of the room, many art pieces hang on the others.

Flakey Studios is a building rich in artistry and diverse character. Founded and protected by Glenn Lewis, a well-known and established ceramicist, curator, and lecturer and for the past five decades. He has manifested a peaceful home where Vancouver-based artists can create in a safe space. Praised by the Canada Council for the Arts, Lewis knows the importance of crafting art in your everyday, and how that in itself is our inner muse. His studio is in the basement of the building, and always advocates to keep costs down for artists in the city.

“Our goal is to have this space pay for itself. We’re not in it to make the money, to have this space being able to host the meeting of the minds, [myself and Diana],” says Loro.

“Each one, teach one. Everyone has something to share and something to learn from each other. I’m so sick of this pay-so-much-money-and-then-support [concept].”

Another aspect that these women are bringing to local creatives is the opportunity to pitch artist residencies to SSS. “We want to share this creative place with artists and connect them [to] either resources, links, but especially to people. I’m really stoked to see what they would propose as a residency,” shares Loro.

In the past, there have been female artists doing traditional stick-and-poke tattooing from the Philippines, and they exchanged receiving tattoos as an offer of artist residency. SSS is small in square footage, which gives an opportunity for intimate groups and creatives to really speak out in discussion, in learning, and exploring.

“The space is intimate, it changes the dynamic. If it was a bigger space, it’s a lot more to fill,” she says.

With a multi-media arts background among many other creative pursuits, visions come in clear to Loro. She has been manifesting this current day for quite a while, where she could host her workshops Realtalksss, have a jam space, and a comfy spot where she can be at peace with herself. Now working on art installations for events, she needs more room for collections than her home can handle.

David continues to persevere in dance and other mixed mediums of artistic performance, having also created her active workshops Playshopsss, where you have three hours with your participants to magically create something from start to finish. She recently hosted a dynamic photoshoot by the river, complimented with poetry and styling.

I went to Realtalksss workshop hosted by Loro, an introduction workshop to the music software Ableton, for females looking to break into the music production scene. My own artistic journey through singing and songwriting has been slowly surfacing, and Loro teams up with one of Vancouver’s most creatively inclined producer and musician Mikey J Blige to open conversation with a group of talented women, all doing music in different ways. It was powerful to see all of us there together, especially in another industry lacking in female equality.

David is proof of the fire burning in these headquarters. “When we do our meetings, we go off for a little bit. I’m percolating on thoughts, she’s percolating on thoughts, they’re like fire. We love crossing off the list, and the partnership is gnarly.”

Now, after years of running into each other and declaring ideas to the universe, Loro and David have transformed an art studio into an artist’s oasis.

Alli is a wildcard. Faux fur is her wingman. She is constantly moved by art, cool parties, and independent film, and continues to create her own projects. She wishes her photographic memory did her Instagram more justice.  Check out her blog at thewildcardwins.com