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Flash Review, 8-18: Awash in Wonder
Laurie McLeod Sets Dreams Dancing

By Lisa Kraus
Copyright 2004 Lisa Kraus

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NORTH ADAMS, Massachusetts -- The 19th-century brick buildings, steel supporting girders, and open courtyards of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) are slick with rain on the day of my recent visit to Laurie McLeod's video installation "LuoYong's Dream" in the US's largest contemporary arts center. Walking outdoors toward the installation, I hear it first: a mix of humming sound, then violin, plaintive as a voice. The notes change slowly, edging one another over, patient. Turning the corner to peer down the long corridor where "LuoYong's Dream" is placed, on first glimpse of the image of blue water and a man's submerged red robes wafting in the large white-rimmed screen, surrounded by the space's high red clapboard and brick walls, I gasp, "Oh my God how beautiful!" A carpet of pebbles covers the ground leading to the screen, raindrops plunking continuously onto them from a gutter above. Water is everywhere -- sluicing down the screen's wall, and raining out of the darkened sky. I'm lucky. In the rain there's solitude for taking in the piece alone.

In the eight-minute, repeating video, the first image I happen on is pebbles pouring down. Black and white, they rain furiously, in blurred focus, racing earthward. Settle. Gap. LuoYong Wang, an accomplished Chinese actor and dancer with the serene face of a Buddha, in crimson robes with satin cuffs, enters the water with a bicycle. As a subject he is enigmatic -- at once allowing the camera to read him easily but also hidden. His underwater actions, linked to his dreams, are ambiguous. The rhythm with which they occur is gentle, with space for us to rest between, to drift while watching a moment of moving light, a moment of rolling orbs casting golden shadows.

Water makes for lyrical fluidity in movement. LuoYong, holding the handlebars of his submerged red bicycle, lets go and drifts, seeming to fly upward. He draws the sheer white fabric draped over the bicycle away and it ripples luxuriously, a generous revealing. Watching images layer one on another, logic is suspended. As in our own dreams, we accept the strangeness of LuoYong bringing handfuls of pebbles to his face, washing it with them, placing a stone in his mouth, walking his bicycle horizontally. All these actions seem necessary to him.

When does it begin? When does it end? I imagine a circle with notches at various points for gaps. Any time could be the beginning. LuoYong walking away with all the pebbles gathered into the white cloth looks like a final gesture. Gathered up, complete. But as the viewers choose how to read meanings, they also choose how to structure their experience. In the course of watching I move in close, enjoying the marriage of architecture and art. On finally turning away from the compelling screen I am struck by the enclosed corridor's shelter, how one actively leaves this work of art, the sound of Mark Orton's score accompanied by crunching steps on pebbles. The passage from containment to open space is emotional. At the moment when I can no longer hear the sound and begin to sense my experience of the piece as a memory, I have a feeling of loss. The watery dream world is a world I don't want to leave.

Laurie McLeod's work as a dancer and choreographer has tuned her eye to shape and movement. This, her fourth video created underwater, reveals what she has learned about filming visual surfaces and textures and light. Her sensual and questioning approach to each image deepens the viewer's experience. We are left with a sense of wonder, settled and grateful.

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