Saturday, 5 May 2012

H.R. Giger Museum: Alien - Prometheus

In anticipation of the release of Ridley Scott's Prometheus I though it timely to post my photographs of my visit to the H.R. Giger museum from 2007.

I have been fortunate to have been able to travel to art exhibitions and galleries around the world that have displayed the works of some of my favourite film/concept/comic book artists; Moebius, Miyazaki and way back in 2007 I travelled to Switzerland to visit the H.R. Giger Mueseum.

The Giger museum is located in the beautiful area of Gruyeres at the Chateau St. Germain in Switzerland and is worth a trip if for the journey alone.

The train journey to Chateau St Germain takes a journey through the lush mountainous countryside of Switzerland. When you reach St Germain you would scarcely believe that the "God of Biomechanics" would have chosen such a lovely location to house his nightmarish unearthly work.

Chateau St Germain is a perfectly charming small walled medeval village. After a short uphill walk from the train platform you pass through one of several gateways and once insdie you are greeted by lovely white washed rustic shuttered houses and rising cobbled streets.
Gruyeres is famous for its local cheese and there are many chances to sample this famous dairy product and have a cheeky beer or a strong coffee in one of the several cafes or restaurants.

A view from an upper floor window looking down at St Germain's high street. Chateua St Germain is situated on a hill which means you get some fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. Flanking St Germain are lovely hillside valleys, forests and snow capped montains.

But where is Giger?

After few minutes walk we finally get our first clue of the whereabouts of the Giger museum. Above the archway is a metal sign proclaiming "Museum H.R. Giger."

Before reaching the entrance to the museum, visitor are treated to some of Giger metal sculptures. I wonder what the locals think of their quaint charming village being home to such wierd otherworldly gargoyles?

Time for a quick photo opportunity next to a female scuplt that has a resemblance to the biomechanoid she creature from the film Species. Not a particularly good film it has to be said, but Giger's creation for the film was a highlight.

And finally we come to the entrance to the museum itself. The museum operates a strict over 18s policy as the contents of the museum are pretty hardcore in terms of sexual imagery. There is also a no-camera regulation that is enforced as you enter the museum.

The interior of the museum is like a cross between a high class strip club and a haunted house tour that just happens to be an art gallery.
What surprised me upon coming face to face with the artwork was the size of the paintings - a lot of them were the size of an entire wall. It is always worth seeking out original art whenever possible. Seeing original art can be quite a breathtaking event as the artist's work can have a very different impact when seen in the flesh/canvass and can often bring a whole new perspective to an artists oeuvre. Giger's original works are no exception to that rule.
Walking into and through the museum has the effect of having passed through a portal into a medeval biomechanical church - where flesh, sex and machine meld together to become something new and unique. You soon begin to forget all abot the lush green normality of the world outside, as if the colour green no longer existed.

Giger has studied as an industrial designer and this is very evident in his mechanical aspects of his work and never more so in a room that houses his metal work sculptures that he created for an aborted version of the film Dune. Giger not only paints and draws but he is a very hands on artist, building huge metal scupltures that dominate some of the rooms of the museum.

The ALIEN concept paintings occupy a room that is dedicated to the works created for that film. It was a real thrill to come face to face with the actual original concept art after seeing them only in books.
But the best thrill of all is coming face to face with the actual Alien itself. Giger has created two full size bronze statues made from the casts of the original costume he built for the film. One of the statues stands in a glass display case and the other hangs from the ceiling like a great spider ready to fall in unsuspecting visitor - or anyone found taking photographs!
The actual Alien is HUGE! It towers over you like a giant biomomechanical hybrid of a man, a shark and a large cock! The enormous height of the creature really does not come across in the film and I was really taken aback at the size and power of the creature. Even in this inert for it felt like looking at the Devil itself. The toothed phallus head of the creature struck a primordial fear into my soul, it was as if my subconcious registered this creature as something I should be running from - just as I would run from a deadly spider or a shark..
The smooth skull like face of the creature consisting mostly of gleaming metal teeth seemed to hold me in a hypnotic grip - just like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle I found it impossible to look away. I could now understand why, in the film, the characters of Brett and Lambert were frozen with terror and awe when faced with the metal giant.

The original painting of the derelict spacecraft. The actual model that was built by Giger was not on display at the museum. I think the actual model is in the hands of a private collector.

The original painting of the "pilot" of the derelict. I have always wondered about the fossilised remains of this creature and I hope the Prometheus film does not disapoint. The one thing I love about the Alien film is its "alien" nature and mystery. The other films in the series loose that factor and the alien itself is just reduced to being a simple animal-esque monster or even worse; cannon fodder.
The large sculpture of this creature that Giger built for the film was saddly vandelised and destroyed after a premier of the film back in 1979. It would have been amazing to have seen the original giant sized sculpt of this prop.

One of several concept paintings of the fully grown Alien. This actual painting that was on display was a reproduction as the original had been stollen many years before. Somewhere, a private collector has this original painting in their possession.

The alien has both a graceful beauty and a disturbing sexual quality. The creature from Alien still holds a strange fascination for me, despite being copied, plundered, diluted and abused (Alien v Predator). No other Alien movie quite captured the quality of Giger's original biomechanical design.

So... this was only a tiny portion of the painting and sculpts that were on display at the museum and I did rather focus on the Alien aspect of Giger's work.
I would have taken a lot more photographs of the museum but the strict no photography rule prevented this and back in 2007 digital cameras were abit more conspicious than they are today. I am sure with the advance of small camera phone it would now be a lot easier to snap of a few cheeky shots of the works.

The Giger Bar

After the museum it is worth checking out the Giger designed and owned bar. The bar is situated across from the museum and is a great place to have a calming beer and a tray of grilled cheese. Giger designed all of the interior to the bar and sculpted all of the fittings. It was like sitting inside the ribbed belly of some gigantic alien being.
As you sip your beer you cannot help but check out all of the details inside the bar. It really is the most visually impressive bar I have ever been to and it is free of charge to enter unlike other artist owned bars I can think of (cough - David Lynch - cough).

I loved these oversized chairs that are attatched to the bar. Sitting in one of the chairs makes you feel small like a child as your legs dangle from the chair, your feet barely touching the floor.

The detail on the furniture such as the chairs is wonderful. The leather cushions that are built into the chairs are sculpted and manufactured to resemble Giger's work, it felt criminal to even sit on them!

Check out the detail on the table legs and the stone floor. I love the aztec/circuit board stylings of the floor tiles.

When you want to get away from the bar you can retire to one of the cubby holes to chill out and relax with a beer. Perhaps not the place to go on a first date, I think the diseased stone babies built into the walls might not make the most romantic of settings.

Leaving the bar we discovered an outdoor area behing the museaum. Giger had placed some biomechanical garden furniture in the area, it was as it his work was attempting to integrate itself with the natural beauty of the countryside. I quite liked the moss and fallen leaves that had settled on the weathered stone bones.

When you have had enough of biomechanical genetalia and diseased babies you can continue to explore St Germain. We walked to the top of the hill that the village is built upon and looked out at the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside. The rolling hills, mountains and expansive blue sky were a healthy contrast to the dark nightmarish world we had inhabited for the last few hours.

I would recommend this trip for two very good reasons:

1. The Giger museum, it really is a wonderful experience to see the large original works of art.

2. The beautiful countryside of Gruyeres, it really is breathtaking and perhaps the most beautiful clean place I have ever explored.

So... Prometheus, will it live up to the legacy of Giger and Alien?

Fingers crossed.