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.

_______

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