Artist as Anthropologist: John Peralta’s Poetic Dissection of Everyday Objects

John Peralta, CRUCIFICTION, 2012, Remington Portable #2 typewriter (c.120), wood, nylon mono-filament, LED lighting.


Arguably, with the birth of the automobile around the turn of the 20th century and alongside it Henry Ford’s efficiency-minded factory system, humans and machines embarked on a fast-paced journey toward the future, enmeshed in an ever-complicated relationship. Look at literature, film, and art from the early 20th century on and you’ll notice a generalized trend of anxiety about machines taking over, making humans obsolete and/or powerless. Humans still operate assembly lines, design the products created there and are the key users in making these machines commercially viable, but we seem to be always pondering the cost to our collective agency. Our humanity. John Peralta, an artist based in Austin, Texas, is here to remind us of the potency of human ingenuity, revealing the incredible and irrevocable human power behind mass mechanization.

John Peralta, THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING, 2019, First generation iPhone, aluminum, acrylic, wood.

Peralta, in his artwork, dissects machines--literally; subverting the finished product by reversing the fabrication process. He takes machines apart and then offers all of their components in stunning, suspended schematic displays that reveal the inner workings of these often ubiquitous and utilitarian tools. The results are breathtaking: floating iPhones with microscopic screws and screens revealed, suspended amidst ghostly spaces in between, delicately hovering between these materials. With Peralta’s intervention, the machines suddenly feel approachable, vulnerable even. We see how tentative their construction is and how utterly dependent each part is to function together as a whole. The visual metaphor is illuminating, revealing the poetry behind the manufactured, rendering these machines arguably beautiful manifestations of, and metaphors for, the human experience.

John Peralta, MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND, 2019 Edison Standard Phonograph (c.1910), wood, steel, fluorocarbon mono-filament.

Peralta’s story is a fascinating one: he’s lived all over the world, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and many places in between. While living and working in Hong Kong, the toy capital of the world, he ambitiously entered the arena of mass production with the launch of his own toy company as a kind of side project. He quickly learned how challenging it is to maintain success amongst those hungry to riff off new ideas, all competing for market share in a fast-paced world. In hindsight, it sounds as though the experience was a fruitful launching pad for his own art career. After many years in higher education consulting, Peralta returned to the United States and ultimately began a new chapter: as an artist. As Peralta describes it, venturing into making singular objects without pressure for mass production brought a very deep form of personal satisfaction, meeting a deep-seeded desire to make sense of the world on his own terms; to literally follow his curiosity for the world of machines. Talking with him, one gets the impression quite quickly that this peripatetic existence fostered an innate curiosity and intelligence about the workings of culture, as well as deep insight into the connections we share as humans cross-culturally (expressed in his work through the devices that connect us throughout the globe). 

John Peralta, VALENTINE, 2016, Olivetti “Valentine” Portable Typewriter (c.1969), wood, latex, fluorocarbon mono-filament, LED lighting.

Indeed, in line with his life experience, Peralta’s process for choosing machines positions him as a sort of cultural excavator: he’ll explore antique markets wherever he is, often uncovering finds from long ago (typewriters and sewing machines are frequent subjects of his work). Peralta brings to these works a deep reverence for the design and artistry behind their construction that is palpable: in his hands, his pieces render the machines both recognizable but also as universal. His personal touch and decisions to frame these works create symbols many of us can connect to--these are not objects designed to dominate us, but to offer further avenues for creation and/or connection. Displayed as they are, Peralta reminds us of the magnitude of the always evolving human capacity for invention. These works become anthropological symbols, frozen in time and space for us, offering us the gift of insight on the underlying workings and equations of things we think we already know about and the sheer glory of reveling in their invention. By looking at them, we establish a kind of reciprocal conversation--a moment of reflection on just what human beings are capable of doing. WM

Megan Reed

Megan Reed is a writer and fine artist based in Los Angeles, California.

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