Artist of the Week

Frank Peralta

August 29, 2023

Frank is an interdisciplinary artist and fabricator dually based out of Miami and Chicago, who’s work moves through modalities such as sculpture, digital fabrication, costume, print, and performance. Their work often traverses binaries between science and the mystical, digital vs analog, mind and body, and self and other as a means to not just activate the tensions of these spectrums, but to move back and forth and subvert their approach to generating images, objects, and thoughts in and around these concepts. Their work often draws upon science fiction and anatomical structures as a revolutionary lens to consider queer communion and self-liberation, a principle central to their praxis. This is also filtered into their fabrication and costume work, and the way they think about collaboration which has allowed them to work with institutions such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, IL), Co-Prosperity's sphere (Chicago, IL) and The Chicago Cultural Center.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Frank! Originally from Miami, I am an artist, creative, friend, barber, nature lover, hedonist, and pleasure seeker living and working in Chicago. My work tends to interact with different spheres of performance, costume, leatherwork, drawing and sculpture that often end up feeding into one another. I’ve really come to self identify with the trope “jack of all trades master of none”; I think there’s this pre-conceived pressure, that we are all now starting to move away from in society, of only existing and pouring all of our energy and resources into one singular thing. Right? We are supposed to be able to neatly describe what we do, and perfect that image in order to capitalize, and make a digestible concept of what we are and what we do. In learning to instead give into my multitudes, my messiness, my chaos, it has really breathed a new life into my relationship to my work and allowed me to recognize the expansive potential that being in conversation with so many interests, communities, methodologies and approaches has. My costume work has fed into my performance and well my drawings are the blueprint for my costumes. It’s a cyclical relationship about being in conversation with whatever you’re really invested in, and trusting that whatever speaks to you always has a purpose and lends meaning to working interdisciplinarily. Really what I’m getting at is that everything I make revolves around the practice of honoring the constant pursuit of desire, and pleasure as a power principle. So much of what I “do”, or rather the art that I see in the world that personally gets me off is the creation of images that tap into an embodied personal power that expands our preconceived notion of what something or someone is capable of. That’s hot.

What has drawn you to fashion/garments/costume work?
I’m obsessed with garments, costume, and performance, but especially drag, which essentially is the combination of all of those things. Costumes are just wearable sculptures on the body that you get to be intimate with. Your fluids are interacting with one another, the sweat running down your chest, the feeling of rustling fabric between your legs or under your armpit, the weight of what you are wearing pressing on your shoulders. In that period of wear you are one, melded together. You are it and it is you. For me the thing that will forever draw me to drag and costuming is the witnessing of yourself and others have that moment of reckoning where they see themselves from outside of themselves and recognize that they are an object of their own creation- what a fucking power trip. It’s so seductive, I really feel like you can see something shift in a performer’s eyes, when they are really in it- and I mean in it. It makes me super emotional and sends goosebumps all over my body, what a beautiful thing. Performance really is the one medium that activates reality as an embodied visceral experience, and on that stage, or street, or park, or back alley, you have all of the power to construct what that is for you and what that looks like. Costumes and garments are the vessel for this transformation, a sort of transition, that extend our bodies, change them, enhance them. Especially as a trans person, costuming has been a really sacred avenue for me to play with expression. It’s a playground where you make the rules and obstruct the rigidity of how we are being perceived or how we perceive ourselves. We get to be more than we are, or rather other to– what we have originally perceived ourselves to be. Having that avenue to play and self actualize is everything to me and it’s everything to the trans people in my community. How does your performance/drag interact with your other work? I am incredibly lucky and spoiled here in Chicago to have access to such a rich drag and performance culture, and to be able to grow friendships with some of my favorite artists and queens. There really is nowhere else quite like it. Being able to witness and contribute to it constantly inspires me to make and make more. But also, it’s worldbuilding. So much of my work is about autonomous myth-making and myths as a sort of love letter to my environment and key to help make meaning and understand the world around me. I am obsessed with creation myths. Most things I make, I organically find myself creating a story of where it’s come from, its history, and its future. These things change of course because once it’s made it is completely autonomous, that’s the magic. Myths are equal parts truth and fantasy in this way, a story that articulates the conception of a thing or person or place but told through a fantastical lens other to the one we use to conceive reality. It creates a distance from what we know by presenting itself as fantastical or other to our agreed upon conceived reality. But myths are exactly about our reality and speak to very real experiences, just expressed in an alternate format. Many times, that format honestly feels more informed than a scientific or observational retelling. I do a lot of myth making in my writing practice and think of it as an ever unfolding process that molts like a snake in tandem with everything else I make.

Could you tell us more about your leatherwork?
Yes! So I’m a self-taught amateur leatherworker, however I have almost 10 years experience as a seamster so there is a lot of crossover in terms of technique, but I love leather as a material, as a culture, as a fetish. I started dedicating myself to leathercrafting specifically about a year ago. I have always loved leather, the way it smells, the way it feels, the way it expands and shrinks, its strength, its heaviness, its whole aesthetic experience in general. Wearing leather for me has almost surpassed
the fetish aspect of it, and entered a more spiritual kind of relationship (but still equally erotic). Amongst leather queers there’s this philosophy or idea around leather performing as “a second skin”, to wear leather is to wear the embodiment of another being with the ingrained knowledge of having experienced the transformation of death. The tanning of hides and fabrication of leather into something to be worn, is a sort of death ritual enacted on another being for the continuity of being, it has new life after death, similar to the Egyptian practice of mummification. That in the sensual engagement of leather, in its touch, it is a body molding itself to you just as much as your body is molding itself to it. It is a sensual armor that you are in relationship with. It really wasn’t until the height of the pandemic that I started involving myself and educating myself on leather culture and history more specifically, and Chicago is the perfect place for a leather freak like me to do it. Throughout the expanse of this year, I was also put in contact with the Leather Archive and Museum here in Chicago where I have had the privilege of engaging in a lot of research from their collections. There really isn’t another space that exists quite like it, with one of the richest longest recorded histories of leather culture accessible in our country, their collection is a sacred resource. Kind of blows my mind that anyone can just have access to it casually in this city, especially as a queer and trans person. Being in this space has also given me a pretty precious opportunity to be in conversation and community with an older generation of queer leather people that have lived through pivotal points in Chicago queer history.

Your work revolves heavily around the body and transmutation, could you talk a little bit about that?
My work has always started with the body, as it does for many people, especially trans people, fat people, disabled people, people of color, or neurodivergent people that have alternate ways of relating to their bodies. I think so much of my experience has come from existing in a state of non–body or escaping my body, that a lot of my work has been a kind of series of experiments and fantastical reimaginings of bodies from different outsider lenses. I’ve really loved playing with a scientific lens of perceiving or understanding bodies, mostly in a tongue- in-cheek kind of way, exactly because of its rigid understanding and outlining of bodies (and the inherent violence that science has perpetuated towards bodies throughout history and time). I guess that is what has really drawn me to sci fi and how sci fi uses fantasy to disrupt this larger narrative of bio-essentialism using the very language of science. Sci Fi to me has so much revolutionary potential for this reason, or rather I should be more specific and say that I consider intersectional sci fi authors to be revolutionaries in their field; authors like Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, Larissa Lai, Samuel Delany, etc etc. People who are using scientific concepts and theories to create works of fiction that critically engage with human culture and the essence of what it is to be human in a dystopian/utopian landscape. It’s almost funny how the reimagining of bodies in these stories actually makes you contend with the physical and psycho realities of bodies in the first place, for example: clones, cyborgs, aliens, etc. They all bank on this experience of body horror and abjection that I find really comforting and relatable. With these characters I think the notion I’m very much attracted to is the idea of using body transmutation as a response to body horror, the altering of bodies to talk about the horror of a human carnal body. It speaks on what I was saying earlier about owning and actively creating body autonomy and the different ways that that can look like. I feel like this is a never ending well of things to pull from that constantly inspire me across the board in everything I make.

Who/what are your biggest inspirations?
Nature: Plain and simple yet infinitely abundant and everything we could possibly need
Arca: Fell in love with her when I was 17 and have had similar transition timelines to her throughout her career that have been extremely pivotal for me.
My mother/ancestry: Self explanatory, but was raised by a badass second generation immigrant single mother, who was also raised by a single mother who are all in the arts.
80s art horror: Love a goofy self revealing horror stunt or animatronic, love Hellraiser, Suspiria, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, House, etc.
Porn/Sex work: Sex work is cool, and literally the oldest job in human existence, I’m a better person because of sex work and sex workers.

Fav studio snack?
Ha! I feel like this is a larger “what are you getting at the Bodega” question, which honestly we have a few rotating options that tend to be seasonal. More often than not I’m having a little beer in the studio paired with two other beverages at the minimum. We are a 2-3 beverage kind of person, often a seltzer and then a fun option. Of course we go for a classic pickle or lime chip, a honey mustard pretzel, a slim jim, or sour candy. Honestly though the shit that I’ve been on recently are these kimchi ramen packets with real kimchi inside that has got me all sorts of together.

Do you have any rituals you take part in?
Oh my god I love me a little ritual, rituals really are the gateway to enjoy process, my favorite hack. Rituals that I practice and fall into…. When it comes to dishes I need to put on a pair of platforms or even a sexy lil jockstrap to do the dishes and listen to music. Everytime I open a new pack of Newports I have to turn it upside down and flick it 3 times until one cigarette jumps further than the rest, that’s your lucky. I have a little personal altar next to my bed with candles and incense that I burn and try to light every full moon. Stepping outside and seeing that the sun is out immediately warrants a moment of looking very directly and intentionally at the sun for as much or as long as I can. Everytime I have a nightmare I try to write it all out on a page and then I go outside to my backyard, light it on fire, and watch it burn. Really what these practices are for me, are just about taking a very intentional moment of time to come back to oneself and cater to small acts of care in the flow of my every day.

What’s been your go-to summer look so far?
Ok so as far as looks for this summer… this summer for me, has been about feeling good in my body, taking accountability for my time and how i spend it, and joy oh my fucking god experiencing JOY that is thee look of the summer. That being said, I created a summer bucket list that honestly has been my summer go-to look.
● Dancing as hard as you can until you sweat
● Camping trips
● Nature hangs with friends/lovers
● Spontaneous lake visits
● Personal altars/rituals
● Jorts
● Walking and marking cool things u see in your google maps
● Calisthenics
● Painting ur friends nails
● Wearing heels/sexy outfit to do mundane tasks
● Reading as an event
● Thrift store games
● Whisky
● Card games/rummikub
● Kissing dogs
● Ankle strength/wrist strength
● Releasing all shame around playing music out loud in public all the time

What project that you’re working on are you most excited about?
Oh my god, I’ve been collaborating with my friend Nasim Mohomar, who is a friend of mine living in Miami who does a lot of land work and more recently hunting, they have this event that they run called Queer Swamp Walk,  (@avesypoesia on Instagram) where they invite queer people all over Florida to meet them for a walk through the everglades where they talk and educate everyone about the ecosystem and wildlife that live there. They’ve more recently been working on learning how to skin and tan animal hides for leather, which is how I was connected to them. This year we have been exchanging skill shares, leatherwork for hunting/skinning/tanning knowledge and working towards this project making leather gear using iguana skins. The iguanas, mainly the Black Spiny Tail Iguana and the Green Iguana are invasive species to the Florida ecosystem which is how they started specifically hunting iguanas for leather. Making garments and gear out of leather and specifically creatures/beings from the environment where I grew up and that we are both from feels incredibly special and exciting to me. I can’t wait to materialize these things over the course of the next year.


Interview conducted and edited by Emma Kang James.