Dangerous Dream Houses

If we were 5 cm tall, wed live in Michael Jantzens Dwelling Places

Photo by Jack GouldMichael Jantzen's "Dwelling Places" offers a startling vision as un-Orange County as any I've seen. His architectural models pull silently at longings all but buried beneath practicality and the Way Things Are. Jantzen's offerings ably fill the large gallery; apparently, he's very busy. He's also a radical who should probably be hunted down and stood against the wall for decanting such a dangerous dream of the way things could be.

There are dozens of dreams in "Dwelling Places," a few of them extraordinary. Jantzen's immaculately Futurist works employ mostly manipulable parts, walls that can be arranged in different ways to suit varying needs, like IKEA for real houses. Those are fun and interesting in concept, but you can see only so many before they get almost as monotonous as Mission Viejo. But when Jantzen deals with the demands of the subconscious and the primal need (for us, always unrealized) for openness, the results are profound.

There are several bizarre homes built specifically for sleep. One, Journey Into the Night, is a "sleep capsule" on a track. High in the air—like the Monorail—the dreamer glides around in ovals. What one is supposed to do with the sleep capsule during the day is not addressed, nor does it need to be. In Jantzen's utopia, the wealth of the homeowners is so great an entire property can be given over to the night.

Some of Jantzen's dwellings sit on lots the size of Wyoming. One is a solar-powered house with an automatic lawn-mowing appendage. The house, perhaps the size of a matchbox, sits in the midst of a gigantic circle of grass, around which an arm (coming out of the side of the house) sweeps as methodically as a pool cleaner. The thought of such a huge (and round!) plot of land makes one almost giddy. Could one really have that much space, just for oneself? Really?

It used to be that the two things we could count on when we needed to feel expansive—the two things left to us as Southern Californians—were the sky and the sea. But the sea has become a toxic soup of industrial and residential effluent—another symptom of intensifying land use and shrinking open space—and if the sky is cleaner than it has been for decades, there are plans afoot to fill it with commercial airliners. Never mind: these once-pure elements are Jantzen's canvas. Several of his pieces combine them with intricate techno-memory digital stuff (that's the best description I can give, not being a physicist). For those pieces, the houses are blank slates on which Jantzen imposes digital pictures—not even imposes, really, because the pictures are integral to the houses, not applied like makeup. One, for instance, made for that stretch of PCH that runs through Malibu, brilliantly solves the problem of all those ugly garages belonging to the rich blocking the view for the rest of us: the entire fa├žade of the house is a digital picture of the waves and sky behind it. Another example is his Digital Sky Pavilion, a white block with sense memory where the most beautiful sunsets can be stored for gray days. It doesn't really matter what's going on inside the house (though it's a safe bet Jantzen's beloved movable walls are in there somewhere). Outside, it's all sky—sky and dreams we're afraid to have.

"Dwelling Places" at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233. Open Sat.-Sun. & Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Through Aug. 26. Free.
 
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