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John David and Josh Churchchill prepare for the performance at Shapeshifters Cinema Sunday night.

Shapeshifters Cinema mixes experimental video with live music

on January 15, 2013

Live experimental cinema returned to Temescal Sunday with the opening night of the second season of Shapeshifters Cinema, a monthly series blending experimental video with live musical accompaniment. About fifty people packed into a small, informal performance space—all the folding chairs were full and a dozen people crowded into the back of the long, wood-floored room.

The series is curated by husband and wife Gilbert Guerrero and Kathleen Quillian, artists who work in San Francisco and live in the Temescal area, and who wanted to bring live cinema to their own neighborhood. “We felt there was something happening right now in the live cinema scene,” Guerrero said, “and we wanted a way to capture it.”

The Bay Area is known for its strong experimental, avant garde film and video culture, something that Guerrero says inspired Shapeshifters. “There are so many good video artists around, now it’s just about getting out there and seeing work,” he said, mentioning Artists Television Association and SF Cinematheque as venues where he and Quillian look for new artists to bring into Shapeshifters’ lineup.

Shapeshifters’ first season had six shows, beginning last June, and were all held at Arbor Café on Telegraph. This year, they’ve moved into a new venue just a few blocks away—the small, turquoise Temescal Art Center building at 511 58th Street in Oakland. “It’s nice to have a dedicated space for performance,” Guerrero said, citing the complications of sharing a space with an operating business.

Every Shapeshifters show features a pairing of a visual artist with a sound artist—collaboration, experimentation and improvisation are heavily encouraged. Most of the artists are from around the Bay Area, but that isn’t a requirement. On the first night of the new season, visual artist John Davis combined his film projections with musician Josh Churchill’s immersive soundscapes.  Davis sat in the center of the room behind a table of projectors and two digital video cameras, while Churchill was up front seated at a table of pedals, wires and knobs, guitar in his lap, his back to the projector screen behind him. The lights faded, Davis’s 8mm projector rattled on, and the ambient droning of Churchill’s guitar filled the room.

The duo performed two pieces that spanned about an hour—Davis’ textured, bokeh (or blurred, out of focus points of light) images were projected to the distorted, atmospheric sounds of Churchill’s improvised score. The pieces were meditative and abstract, heavy on manipulated images of plants, sunlight and refracted streetlights. The first piece was heavier and more tense, but the second lightened up slightly thanks to the random forward and back clanking of a second projector.

All of the shows in the series will be free, but Guerrero is happy to take donations. He and Quillian are considering launching a Kickstarter campaign going to help fund the reminder of this year’s series. The next show will be held on February 10 and features visual artist Jen Cohen paired with live musical accompaniment by the electic “electro-acoustic” sounds of Guillermo Galindo.

Shapeshifters Cinema takes place the second Sunday of every month from 8-9p (unless otherwise noted) at Temescal Art Center, located at 511 48th St, in Oakland.


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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