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Artist Works in Christian Theme

July 14, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He’s 14 feet tall and looks as if he’s pushing up the ceiling, but actually he’s an Italian acrobat standing on his hands _ the artist has just turned her video upside down.

Sam Taylor-Wood is more a sculptor than a painter. She just carves in colored light rather than wood or stone.

Though her figure resembles the mythological Atlas holding up the world _ an Atlas in white shorts _ the work has a Christian meaning. She calls it `Noli me tangere″ - the Latin for ``Touch me not,″ the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene as she approaches him after the Resurrection.

``She’s been in Italy a lot, and it’s an image you see in old Italian painting,″ explained Sydney Lawrence, spokesman for the Hirshhorn Museum. But Italian artists Titian, Corregio and Fra Angelico depicted the scene literally.

″ `Noli me tangere’ suggests that to be touched would threaten Jesus’ transitional state,″ the artist told curator Olga M. Viso.

``In this work I wanted to achieve the same threat _ of having the man standing there in a vulnerable state, so that touching him might totally shatter him,″ Taylor-Wood said.

The British artist, 32, opens her first American museum exhibit on Thursday. ``Noli me tangere″ was done particularly for this show. It’s the only item on view in a darkened room. She filmed the acrobat twice, front and back, so he can be seen from both sides.

For 4 minutes and 26 seconds _ a long time to stand on one’s hands _ he strains and grunts audibly in a wordless ``narrative.″ Then his feet seem to go up in the air. Actually, since the video is upside down, he’s just standing up.

Taylor-Wood’s works, done in similarly unusual styles, strive for something different. ``Five Revolutionary Seconds″ is a series of panoramic photographs, each 25 feet long, so the viewer walking alongside them gets a feeling of time passing. Her film ``Hysteria″ depicts a woman happy by day and consumed by grief at night from the loss of someone close.

In 1997 Taylor-Wood won the Illy Cafe Prize in Venice for the most promising young artist, at the Biennale show. Last year she was short-listed for Britain’s important Turner Prize, but lost out to painter Chris Ofili, known for using lumps of elephant dung in his work.

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``Directions-Sam Taylor-Wood″ will be at the Hirshhorn Museum through Oct. 17. Admission is free.

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