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By David Finkelstein | March 12, 2015

Mexican Dream is an exquisite video collage by Van McElwee, combining layers of images of a Mexican forest and the emerging ruins of pre-columbian buildings and sculpture. There are also a few images of old churches. Each moment generally has between two to four layers of images, expertly layered together so that the different shots seem to interpenetrate one another. The images tend to be in greyscale, but McElwee accents them with a subtle use of color, so that green of foliage gradually emerges from the grey of the ruins.

The camera in all of the shots is static, and the layers themselves shift in slow dissolves, so the effect in indeed like a dream: a dream of multiple layers of history emerging out of the forest, and then being reclaimed. The video helps us see how the old Mexican architecture emerges organically from the landscape. Many of the sculptures in the buildings have startling faces, so that the collage gives the effect of grimaces growing out of the mountainsides, or shrubs sprouting up through faces. McElwee provides texture and movement to many of the shots by adding the reflections of water on the rocks, or else flocks of birds wheeling around in the distance, creating a sense of vast spaciousness. The sound collage, of a suspended musical chord with voices emerging, reinforces the sense of history and nature intertwined.

In McElwee’s Mexican Dream he uses sophisticated artistic skills to create a magical, shifting landscape: a dream of an ancient culture emerging from the landscape, and sinking back into it again.

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