The exploration and cataloging of the universe’s physical properties tend to land in the realm of science, though in the case of Michelle Graves’ experiments at Core Contemporary, science and art merge in overlapping waves. Graves, who recently spent a month in CORE Arts Concord, the gallery’s artist-in-residence program, discussed her process for creating artwork around the theme of resistance. 

“I went into the residency wanting to do some research on resistance,” Graves said. A friend from grad school, Leo Selvaggio, recently asked, “Where’s the resistance on this?”

“And I was thinking about resistance,” she said. “Why do I feel that so much? Where does that exist? What space does that live in? Why am I there a lot?”

“I could go a lot of places in resistance,” Graves said, noting that the term is used in fields as disparate as mental health and circuitry. “How could I represent resistance in a way that is not just turning on and off a light bulb, or using an actual resistor?” She began working with magnets.

“So, magnets were like the next level,” she said. “Magnets repel and attract. There is a resistance that makes magnitude. So these pieces came out of that. And they’re called eddy currents.” She used ink and heavy magnets to produce a series of brightly colored, splattery, abstract works to materialize the effects of resistance.

Graves kept experimenting and studying, engaging matter, then molecules, and finally worked her way down to the quantum forum. A giant representation of a string (the tiny particle/waves that makeup everything in the universe) is hung from the ceiling, rotating in an oscillatory arch. Its form and undulations are aesthetically pleasing, and when lit, it casts a shadow that dopplers its movement, taking the sculpture from imitation to example. Here Graves passes beyond her initial theme into something more nuanced. “Once you get down to that quantum level, resistance kind of dissipates,” she said.

The micro-to-macro oscillations on display weave together many strands. Graves’ residency was a supernova of creativity with all the heat and pressure that entails. “After eddy currents, which I did on day number five of the residency, I was like, alright, I got a formula down, what else am I going to do,” she said. “I did three more days of research, which felt like I was wasting my time. I only [had] a month to make this work. So I got really mad. In my notebook, I wrote down, ‘What frequency is my brain functioning at right now? Being angry.’ So I looked up, ‘What is the frequency of anger?’ ‘Gamma.’ So I made that piece.” She pointed to a waveform rendered on a strip of raw canvas, red and dappled with splotches. 

“Then I went down the rabbit hole of brain frequency research,” Graves said. “So, on occasion, throughout making this other work, and especially writing these pieces, I would make a brainwave piece at the moment when I felt like I was in that specific frame of mind.” 

Beneath “Gamma,” there are a half dozen other waveforms, each a depiction of the artist’s moods.  

Graves’ other experiments during her residency include a video of metal filings on a speaker and complex word maps, also dedicated to the theme of resistance. All of these works are part of the solo exhibition that resulted form her residency, The Alchemy of Resistance

Michelle Graves’ solo exhibition, The Alchemy of Resistance, is on view at Core Contemporary through Feb. 24. There will be a closing reception and artist’s talk on Feb. 24 from 6-9 pm.

Photos courtesy of Core Contemporary. Headshot by Bronson Lofton.

Posted by Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a wizened veteran of the Las Vegas arts and journalism scene, a lonesome cowboy riding the high desert who occasionally wanders in to communicate dispatches on the innumerable goings on in this thing called civilization. Beware his haggard stare and keen eye.