By Brittany Knupper
John Peralta has always been interested in taking things apart. One of his earliest childhood memories involves him and his brother “pulling their red wagon around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, collecting broken radios, televisions, tape players – anything they could get their hands on” and opening them up to see what made them work. Most of the objects were broken in some way, but a lot were “just old pieces of technology that people didn’t want anymore.” This need to break apart and examine, to unpack an object full of memories and nostalgia, to find all the hidden pieces that make something tick, would later become the driving force for his leap into art.
His family is originally from New Mexico, but he was born in Denver and while they returned to New Mexico for the first part of his childhood, he spent his formative years growing up in thirteen different states, and spent his teens and early twenties in communes. Living in the communes taught him “self reliance and a love for the natural world” and when asked if they influenced his creations or artistic philosophy in any way he said “no, but they taught me practicality. While there I learned about carpentry, woodworking, welding, and electrical engineering.” Practical skills that would enable him to build his sculptures in the future.
The communes also set him on a career path of non-profit managing and consulting. This took him eventually to Hong Kong (the toy manufacturing capital of the world), where, because of downtime created by the SARS crisis, he began inventing toys. In fact, his company invented the first remote control toy car to have a working camera and microphone (the same technology that is now used in drones). Unfortunately they were unable to compete with giants like Walmart and Amazon and he was forced to look for other creative outlets. He began painting and sculpting and while flipping through the pages of a magazine an “exploded view” diagram of a bicycle caught his eye. (An “exploded view” diagram is a picture, schematic or technical drawing of an object, that shows the relationship or order of assembly of various parts, with each component slightly separated by distance.) And it struck him “what if you could make a sculpture, where you took all of the pieces of an object and could suspend them, in air, just like this diagram?”
Just like that, his muse was found. He started “small” – with an old pocket watch, and through a process of trial and error and a lot of photographs, he created his first piece. He suspends his creations mid air with a system of nylon filaments, sometimes strung on metal frames. With few exceptions, they are never enclosed in glass because “I like the idea of it being open, if it’s in glass it’s no longer a sculpture, I want accessibility.” Depending on size and complexity of parts, it takes between one hundred and three hundred hours to create a single piece.
His work is influenced by the great cubist artists Metzinger and Picasso. For him cubism is about exploring all perspectives and angles of an object or person simultaneously – like the fine art version of an exploded view diagram. “When Picasso painted a woman, it was like he painted the exploded view of her.” And so for Peralta, his sculptures aren’t just technical feats of engineering, but actually three-dimensional cubism. You get every view and piece of the art all at once. It’s part of why he insists on not hiding them behind glass. If there is a barrier then you lose the different perspectives, and each angle tells a different story about the object. Stories that are vital to understanding the piece as a whole.
When he goes searching for his next object, it has to be special. First, “They need a lot of moving parts.” (He’s often drawn to typewriters, old cameras, and is often commissioned to deconstruct electric guitars.) Second they need to be objects that “people have touched a lot and have touched us, with human emotion or nostalgia attached to them.” Objects that reflect not just human complexity, but have human stories and emotions pressed into them through use and time. Because for Peralta these are cherished, almost holy objects. In fact, he wants the audience to experience his pieces like “they are going to church.” One of his “exploded” typewriters is even cheekily titled “Crucifiction.” In a way they are like the sacred bones of saints that catholics used to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see. But they also bring to mind vivisections, or autopsies, exposing the vulnerable insides of a once living thing. And Peralta does see them as alive, or at least “sleeping.” “Before I dissect them, they are just sleeping. And then I take (an object) and restore it, break it apart and explode it with everything exposed and vulnerable and you can really see what they are, with all of their parts. The real beauty of them is there.” He doesn’t just restore, or resurrect, them. He gives them a brand new life and purpose.
And really, when you break down, dissect, or “explode” the meaning of church – that’s exactly what these pieces are. Church is about gathering together to share in collected stories and rituals, to resurrect (figuratively, emotionally, literally some might say) what has given it’s life to you, and to take comfort in the nostalgia of a shared history.