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No wonder poet/performer Silvana Straw used the title Teratophobiaan abnormal fear of monsters or of giving birth to onetwice. It conjures Rosemary’s Baby-style shudders as well as artistic jitters, and it isn’t even in the dictionary. Straw came across the term in a book of phobias her mother had given her, and she was compelled to write a poem about a grotesque newborn: “She runs her fingers through my hair and grows more fingers…’I like your mug,’ she tells me. ‘You’ve got a great mug.’”
Teratophobia is also the name of Straw’s multimedia collaboration with electronic composer Alberto Gaitan and video artist Matt Dibble. Straw was invited to kick off Arlington County’s literary series “Ekphrasis” and invited Gaitan and Dibble to accompany her. To create Friday night’s program, they started with eight of Straw’s poems, “then brainstormed on images,” says Straw. “Alberto found a great picture of a dust mite; Matt found the Baby Spice web page, which we’re going to use with the poodle poem.”
The three have worked together in various combinations over the past 11 years. Gaitan and Dibble led a group of art techies in creating 1996’s fantastic Plunder Squad, a synesthetic spectacle that flowed from screens all around the audience. Certain notes triggered changes in color and image, and a video camera onstage added silhouettes of the musicians to the onscreen mix. The silhouettes could “play” certain sounds when they intersected with various icons, so the percussionist, for example, could set off a pre-programmed keyboard riff by watching the screen and swinging his mallet at the appropriate icon.
Gaitan, a Washington arts scenester for the past 18 years, has also designed computer installations for the Corcoran and the Kennedy Center and deconstructed houses as a member of Art Attack. Dibble made a huge interactive video projection for “Luxor v1.0” at the Corcoran, and his and David Chung’s video installation Turtle Boat Head has traveled from the Whitney all across the country. His video editing has its roots in music: He started out as a VJ in nightclubs. “It was frustrating, because the DJ was always in charge….Collaborating with musicians was the best solution,” he says. For Teratophobia, video will be projected on Straw and a screen behind her to Gaitan’s pre-recorded accompaniment. “No tech muscles will be flexed,” says Gaitan.
Straw will still be packing a lot of pyrotechnic heat for a poet and definitely more than the show’s opener, DJ Renegade. She represented D.C. in the National Poetry Slams of 1993 and 1994; he has since assumed the local mantle. Straw has also performed at the Washington Project for the Arts, the 9:30 Club, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and, most recently, St. Albans School. She agreed to be a guest poet in a class at the boys’ school if they let her videotape it. Some footage of the ruling-class youths discussing Straw’s poems will be shown tonight, along with several other short videos. Straw assures me that, true to the evening’s theme, the St. Albans footage is very scary.Virginia Vitzthum
Friday’s free program, at 8 p.m., has been moved from a smaller venue to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Building at 4301 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, one block from the Ballston Metro. (703) 228-6960.