Erica G. Peralta Looks at Restaurants From the Inside Out

LOS ANGELES — For a brief moment in 2020, it seemed like restaurants had gone out the window. These lively institutions of urban life went silent, and it was surreal to walk past popular eateries entirely vacated or shut down in the wake of COVID-19. The word restaurant comes from restaurer, meaning “to restore or refresh.” They are restorative, perhaps, for those eating, but they can also be grueling places of labor that tax workers’ bodies.

A nondescript restaurant is at the heart of …in the clouds, artist Erica G. Peralta’s new solo exhibition at LAST Projects, with photos by Rafael Cardenas. Titled “Salsa’s,” the roughly shoulder-high installation looks like a nondescript building with red windows, with a small stove in the back. Step inside, however, and the illusion goes away — this tiny restaurant is made of cardboard and magazine materials. The kitchen stove stands bald and gray — any real fire would set it entirely aflame.

The line between a building’s facade and its construction shows through in “Crafts on Whittier,” a small cardboard installation propped up on a spray-painted tomato cage. The pink awning says “CRAFTS,” but the cardboard material boldly declares “The Home Depot,” pointing to the source of Peralta’s materials for this piece. Around the corner is “Whittier Crafts,” a photograph by Rafael Cardenas that depicts the same building, whose faded pink facade offers party supplies, silk flowers, and other goods.

Left: Erica G. Peralta, “Latin Playboy” (2022); right: Rafael Cardenas, “Whittier Crafts” (2023)

“Daily, I maneuver the East Los Angeles neighborhood Boyle Heights that symbolizes and compares the strength and resilience of the Mexican American community in my hometown San Jose, CA,” writes Peralta of her work. “These structures represent unconventional spaces of communion that, for the most part, have been used as a haven for those looking to escape the internal turmoil.”

In “Triangle of Service,” Peralta has painted a roadway in the sky connecting what looks like a factory, a stove, and a home. A “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign floats between puffy clouds. Referencing the service triangle of company, employees, and customers, the painting looks like a fantasy, much like the fantasy that food in a restaurant might be more restorative than that served in a home. (The service triangle, quips Peralta in a statement, is a concept meant “to keep our heads in the clouds.”)

If these miniatures feel like dollhouse versions of the real thing, “…And I’ve Been Working Like a Dog” is a real-world reminder of the inequalities of urban life that restaurants can embody. A pair of used non-slip work shoes are placed atop “33 days…,” a video installation of Modelo beer being poured out of cans and bottles for 34 minutes (and presumably over the course of 33 days). The shoes are peeling, torn apart, much like the cardboard installations throughout the gallery, and the video’s repetition is hypnotic.

“Choosing a date, choosing a restaurant, choosing a dish off the menu, or choosing whether you would like your burger done medium or well done,” writes Peralta, “These choices seem so important until you find yourself on the other side serving the choosers.”

Erica G. Peralta, top: “…And I’ve been Working Like a Dog” (2023); bottom: “33 days…” (2022)
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Installation view of Erica G. Peralta, “Salsa’s” (2023)
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Erica G. Peralta, “The Duplex on Chavez” (2022)
Rafael Cardenas, “Latin Playboy Has Seen Better Days” (2023)
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Erica G. Peralta, “Mini Liquor Store” (2023)

…in the clouds continues at LAST Projects (206 South Avenue 20, Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles) through October 14. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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