I am a Vermont Artist: Tina Escaja (a.k.a. Alm@ Pérez)
Cyberpoets practice the art of electronic literature. Working at the intersection of language and technology, they create experiences that redefine what a poem or story can be. For Burlington-based cyberpoet Tina Escaja (a.k.a. Alm@ Pérez), this means everything from interactive poem-websites to scannable barcode-poems and even three-dimensional, spider-like “robopoems.” While the forms of this digital art stretch the imagination, the use to which Tina puts them will be familiar to all lovers of art: “to venture from the intimate into transcendence.”
Tina is as much a scholar as an artist. In her native Spain she earned a degree in Spanish philology from the University of Barcelona, after which she came to the United States and earned a PhD in Latin American and Spanish Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She came to Vermont in 1993 to teach at the University of Vermont, where she is currently Distinguished Professor of Spanish and Director of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. With a raft of publications on gender, technology, and representation in Latin America and Spain, her contributions to the humanities are prolific and as provocative as her artwork.
Tina writes that living as an artist in Vermont often feels like hiding, but in 2020 you may have seen her outside Burlington City Hall, smashing pumpkins carved with Trump faces as part of her performance group, Feminists Against BS (FABS). Tina’s daughter, Vera Escaja-Heiss, has likewise made a name for herself in Vermont arts as a two-time Vermont Poetry Out Loud State Champion.
Tina shared her thoughts on being a Vermont artist.
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Living as an artist in Vermont feels like a game of hide-and-seek, mostly hiding, since my “presence” is intrinsically related to my un-related job as a professor at UVM, and my thick Spanish accent and identity makes me both visible and hidden. Vermont has allowed me to venture from the intimate into transcendence by means of the word and multimedia pathways. Having opportunities to think, play with words, using tools that break boundaries and connect through technology into the global, makes Vermont paradoxically unique. Vermont is my anchor into otherness, mostly poetic and electronic, and I’ve been evolving ideas and projects over my three decades of un-presence in this state. Coming from a big city located by the sea, I find that Lake Champlain functions as well as a site for mental cleansing, reference, and inspiration.
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
Over the years, I’ve been adapting to new technologies and political-poetical landscapes. My project Código de barras (Barcodes), for example, is based on barcode technology and addresses, while also questioning, issues of imperialism and informatic control. Barcodes morphed into QR Codes and Augmented Reality in later projects, while existential issues, which are at the core of many of my works, took the shape of robots-poets/poems interacting with each other and with humans. Feminism and po-et(h)ics function as a major trigger of my projects as well, like the series 13 lunas 13, based on sexuality and menstruation, or performances that question the exclusionist canon like the ongoing Destructist/a happenings, where I invite the audience to destroy and transform a book I give them into new artifacts. I am also a member and co-founder, with Laurie Essig, of the absurdist performance group Feminist Against BS (FABS). As such, we’ve been smashing “Trumpkins” over the past years at Burlington’s City Hall, among other political-poetical statements and performances.
What is your vision for the next several years?
Since my work is anchored in current issues and personal tuning into the current (political, poetical, technological) landscape, I assume I will keep my ear out and react to these changes. Right now, I am deeply involved in representing the impact of COVID-19 in our lives and environment, how it deepens our sense of self and others, the tragedy and the science of the pandemic. My project Mar y virus/Virus and the Sea seeks to reach out to these personal, environmental and community questions by means of poetry, Virtual Reality, and testimonies, among other platforms. It is hard to pull away from the ongoing impact of the pandemic to see what will happen next. I suspect it will be at the core of my work for years to come, in one way or another.
Tina Escaja (a.k.a. Alm@ Pérez) is a destructivist/a cyber-poet@, digital artist and Distinguished Professor of Spanish and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Vermont. Considered a pioneer in electronic literature in Spanish, her creative work transcends the traditional book format, leaping into digital art, robotics, augmented reality and multimedia projects exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. Escaja has received numerous recognitions and awards, and her work has been translated into six languages. She is the instigator of the Destructivist/a movement, initiated on the grave of Vicente Huidobro in October of 2014.
The I am a Vermont Artist series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.