Metal Wire: Giger In Wonderland
Stumbling upon Swiss surrealist and noted album art designer HR Giger’s
museum, in the heart of a Swiss cheese dairy region, is like walking into
a weird fairytale perfectly crafted by the master himself
When you have spent over three days in SwitÂzerland, the sight of endless stretches of snow is about as excitÂing as your hotel room. So, when I spotted ”˜The Bitch’, all gleaming metal and unashamedly sexy, standing proud at the entrance of what looked like yet anothÂer grey castle in GruyÃ¨res, I gave up all preÂtence of being grown up. “Korn mic stand,” I yelled, after taking a moment to come up with a more polite term for ”˜The Bitch’. The young Guillaume Schneuwly, who was showÂing us around GruyÃ¨res, was both surprised and amused. He didn’t expect me to recogÂnise the aluminium microphone stand that is shaped like a woman and has toured with American metal band Korn since 2001. “Yes, it’s the Giger museum,” said Schneuwly.
GruyÃ¨res is a picture-postcard town in southeastern Switzerland, and a museum dedicated to the freakishly beautiful art of Hans Rudolf Giger in the middle of this cheese and chocolate wonderland is a charmÂing incongruity. The Giger museum, it would seem, was meant to shock and rattle just like his art does. Giger is a Swiss surrealÂist painter, sculptor and set designer, and, apart from his work for the likes of Korn, he was also part of the special effects team that won an Academy Award for its work on the film Alien (1978). Schneuwly tells me that the museum never features in Swiss tourism brochures or itineraries. “Sometimes, people who come in here say that this is so scary and ugly. Girls hate it. I’m surprised you like the place so much.”
Giger, 74, bought and redesigned the chaÂteau in Gruyeres to transform it into a modÂern art museum like no other. In fact, he’s thoughtfully built a Giger bar right across the museum should visitors need to knock back a peg or two after they make a trip to the muÂseum. The bar is no less an experience. The Harkonnen bar chairs, which look like mediÂeval warlords’ thrones, prep you up for what’s to come at the museum. The ceiling of the bar resembles a ribcage with twisted verteÂbrae. Giger designed these aluminium and fibreglass pieces for a film adaptation of the novel Dune, which, after several delays, was directed by David Lynch. None of the furniÂture or props made it to the film. But, anyone who has watched Alien will tell you that not including Giger’s designs in Dune (1984) was Lynch’s loss. By the way, Ridley Scott was inÂspired to make Alien after reading NecroÂnomicon, a book Giger wrote in 1977.
Walk into the first floor of the museum and you’ll see a full-grown alien ready to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. Mounting the alien on the ceiling is a masterstroke that makes you gasp when you eventually spot the damned beast. Snakes, heads of babies, ghouls, sexually-charged portraits of women ”“ the singular purpose of these works is to jolt you out of the cocoon that SwitzerÂland spins around you.
Giger’s attention to detail is strikÂing ”“ his intricate surrealist drawÂings, or what he calls the BiomeÂchanical Matrix, have been carved into aluminium plates that have been fixed to the floor. He is so parÂticular about design that he refused to have his name associated with a second Giger bar in Tokyo because the management went ahead with his rough design plans for the place and didn’t wait for him to add the finishing touches. The man, who resides in Zurich, hasn’t been open to an interview in ages, but the story behind his diabolical drawings and instalations is well known. Giger’s works are informed by his dreams, or “night terrors”, as they’ve been often described.
Music has played an important role in his work ”“ a self confessed fan of prog rockÂers Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Giger paintÂed The Magus as a tribute to Keith EmerÂson. His album art for KooKoo (1981), the debut solo album released by Debbie Harry, lead singer of American punk band BlondÂie, and the cover of Brain Salad Surgery (1973), the fourth album released by EmerÂson, Lake and Palmer have both made it to Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Best Covers Of The Century.
The many dark turns that his life has taken, including the death of his first girlÂfriend, the Swiss actress Li Tobler, rumored to be a suicide, have also inspired his work. Giger did a series of paintings in the 1970s tiÂtled The Spell, based on Tobler. Schneuwly’s guided tour of the museum is tame in comÂparison to Giger’s real life story. “He’s obÂsessed with women and the themes of sex and overpopulation,” he offered. The first thought that pops into my mind is that Mumbai may just be a hotbed of ideas for Giger. Imagine him being faced with a local train at rush hour. Giger would transform the train into a mutated beast packed with baby heads. Title: Mumbai Birthmachine.
This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.