For the last 20 years, B-Girl Be artist Michele Spaise has lived in the Whittier Cooperative, once a cooperatively owned apartment building which is now owned and operated by CommonBond Communities. For the last 10 of those years, Spaise has spent time in her home and community photographing the people of her building’s community, during which time she studied photography at Metro State. Through July 23, Intermedia Arts is hosting an exhibition of Spaise’s work, called WHITTIER COOPERATIVE: Healing and Transformation, curated by fellow B-Girl Be artist Deanna Cummings. The exhibition includes photographs, slides and mixed media work that the artist has been developing based on her own life and her community.
Though Spaise has presented work at Intermedia before as an artist in B-Girl Be and also as a curator for that event, this will be her first solo show with the gallery.
The exhibition spans throughout her time living at the apartments, where she’s had more than one apartment. There’s a whole series of portraits which Spaise took while living in her old apartment in the building, before a massive fire destroyed the apartment, called the Wisdom Series. “It was a time in my life when I was searching,” she said, “and trying to figure things out.”
Spaise wasn’t at home when the fire happened, she said, because she was with her youngest son at his football practice. Her elder son, however, was in his room when the fire happened. Spaise includes in the exhibition a photograph taken after the fire, showing the tremendous damage to her home.
While much of the work presented in the exhibition are photographs of people that make up her community, Spaise also includes a number of mixed media works that combine photographs and aeresol paint on mounted wood, that explore spirituality and identity through abstraction and color. The collage pieces are personal, but show an exploration of form and design as well. A particularly interesting piece is called Mary Magdalene, Holy Grail Vortex, a collage of grid patterns and cut-out circles juxtaposed with photographic images. Although it may be unclear what emotional back-story is, the piece resonates with a sense of power, symmetry and grace.
Another mixed-media piece, Love is the Answer, is a spinning table top, with photographs, paint and marker. The piece shows images of women of color posing in different positions. It’s a piece that embraces the strength of the women and the power of community.
Dubbed “a photographic work in progress,” Michele Spaise’s exhibition at Intermedia Arts seems to be probing—at her own place in the world, and how she connects with the her life, her family, and the place that she lives.