We'll take you there

Feb 16, 2000 at 12:00 am

Fantasy Worlds
Photographs by Deidi von Schwaewen, commentary by John Maizels, edited by Angelika Taschen
Taschen, $39.99, 340 pp.

Oz, Shangri La, Atlantis – places from the mind’s molten core, where time comes untied from its moorings. Landscapes of legend or fairy tale, those fabrications by the likes of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Frank Capra and Anonymous inflect our lives from childhood to childhood’s end.

But slowly, at first imperceptibly, the dream gardens of everyday people also crop up – with hardly familiar names such as the Bottle Castle, the Owl House, the Grotto of the Redemption, Forevertron, the Watts Towers or the Heidelberg Project. They grow and suddenly, hey!, we see them – these insanely beautiful habitats, these places from the mind’s wandering eye where architecture, sculpture, assemblage, installation, painting, carving, molding and pouring get all mixed up. Right around the corner or over a distant hill, we find them – public sites of creative toil and art in action – one woman’s or one man’s reverie becoming reality.

Fantasy Worlds, a large book of color photographs by Deidi von Schwaewen, records more than 100 such wonderland construction projects from all over the world. Divided into geographic sections – "Europe," "America," "Asia and Africa" – and supported by an appendix with addresses of the sites, phone numbers, a bibliography and a very helpful index, Fantasy Worlds is a great way to spend an hour turning pages with someone you love, someone you want to travel with, immediately, to fantastic, far-flung destinations that seem more than human.

The artists responsible for these half-mad, homemade lifeboats from the S.S. Daily Grind include internationally lauded sculptors Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, folk heroes Ferdinand Cheval (France) and Simon Rodia (Los Angeles), and legions of artists-of-the-people, Wisconsin’s Mary Nohl and Detroit’s Tyree Guyton among them. Sometimes they’ve been welcomed with open arms by their fellow citizens, and their creations protected, restored, even assisted financially by local governments.

But, as Outsider Art critic John Maizels writes in his introduction to Fantasy Worlds, "No one will ever know how many undocumented sites have failed to find the protection so often needed to preserve them from ignorant authorities and embarrassed families." Detroit’s mayor and City Council, recently so insensitive to the aesthetic and social value of Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, please take note of a case in point: Whereas the City of Los Angeles sought to demolish Rodia’s Watts Towers in the late ‘50s, the present LA administration is treating the internationally renowned landmark as a treasure.

The ideas fertilizing these artscapes beyond the limits, these elysian fields of inspiration, are as varied as the locales and the lives of the often prophetlike individuals who conceive of them. From mysticism to megalomania, from urban revival to emotional rescue, from color obsession to primal meditation, the range of projects suggests that Fantasy Worlds is just scratching the surface of what the horizon has to offer when it comes to the extraordinary, the truly magical arts of the earth.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected]