Man and Machine

Exploring the Dark Regions of Sexuality in the Cold, Sleek Airbrushed World of Fantasy Realism of H.R. Giger

On The Town | Konstantin Borolev, Isabella Vatter | October 2006

Hans Rüdi Giger has a very dark side. In sleek, cold bodyscapes where man and machine are molded into an airbrushed world of fantastic realism, the sinister came to stylish life in a celebration of the artist’s  work at the Kunsthaus, which closed Oct. 1.

At the top of the quirky staircase - an event in itself at Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s fabulous architectural playhouse, with raucous mosaics of color punctuated with sudden outcroppings of polished stone – to the third floor of the Kunsthaus, one is greeted immediately by Giger’s famous piece, Birthmachine consisting of both painting and aluminum sculpture.

The painting, done in acrylics, has an organic quality, with spherical shapes and earthen colors.

The metal sculpture offers a stark contrast. Its material appears stiff and cold, the edges are sharp.

The sculpture represents a cross-section of a blown-up gun in which four misshaped babies wearing goggles and clutching rifles are situated. This provocative piece is typical of Giger’s work and prepares the viewer for what’s about to come.

In 1940, Giger was born into a regimented, middle class family, the son of a pharmacist in Chur, Switzerland. His fascination with darker themes is said to have been a reaction to a pharmaceutical award his father received in the shape of a human skull. In 1962 he moved to Zurich, where he studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts. Nevertheless, his great passion for drawing and painting persuaded the young Giger back to applied art.

Some of his most famous works are the acrylic paintings of aliens that filled two rooms, soft curves of the body interrupted by crude machinery, the forced intrusion of industry into modern life. Giger took the medical term "biomechanic" to describe this style, originally referring to the study of the mechanics of a living body, especially of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure.

Giger is absorbed with the blend of humanity and technology. Mutated babies, hideous alien beings, and the fascination with the sexuality of death appear repeatedly in his work.

Aggressive, and violent energy contrasted with human sensuality question the relationship between life, death and sex. Giger’s work does not provide a definite answer, but relentlessly provokes consideration of these ideas in the viewers mind.

The Necronomicon, Giger’s most famous series, served as visual inspiration for Ridley Scott’s film Alien and was represented here through acrylic paintings and a life-size statue. The long, slender body is constructed from a combination of slippery metal and raw latex, fused together in an extraordinary shape. The alien’s facial features were initially designed using half a woman’s face and half the shape of a penis-head. The work boasts aesthetic craftsmanship, which provokes a certain unease through its intense design and engineering.

"At its essence," Scott said following completion of the film, "Giger’s art digs down into our psyches and touches our very deepest primal instincts and fears."

The second floor introduces the viewer to his more diabolical work, such as his Baphomet series where the image of the goat as a diabolical deity is worked into several paintings. His Lucifer images display archetypal devils using the crucified Jesus as a slingshot. One can instantly imagine how these paintings originally caused quite a stir amongst conservative churchgoers.

The Stillbirth Machine is another highly disturbing painting, a pregnant woman being locked into a machine in which she is forced to give birth, only so the baby can be decapitated through another mechanism. Giger’s delicate, almost loving use of line, light and shadow intensify the irritation.

As a relief from the heavy imagery, the next rooms were filled with furniture and sculptures. The Harkonnen Environment is a dining room set, complete with table, mirrors and two so-called Capo Chairs, featuring three skulls on top of the chair. The furniture was designed for the set of the 1984 movie Dune.

A further set of sculptures entitled Passages was inspired by the crude and rusty lever mechanisms of the German trash collection trucks. Giger described the process as a "mechanically erotic" act, inspiring him to create a series of paintings and sculptures combining the machinery with the soft imagery of genitalia.

Finishing the show was a collection of his most recent pencil drawings. These small-scale images show biomechanical mutants having orgies that would make a porn star blush.

Leaving the exhibition, slowly the colorful, childlike environment of the Kunsthaus re-asserts itself, and the darkness is lifted. Still, the strong images of Giger’s work leave a distinct imprint.

His pieces are in every way provocative and challenging, forcing the viewer to engage in an active debate. One questions the implications of the stimulation just experienced. Should one be disgusted, fascinated or turned on by Giger’s work? Regardless of the answer, the Swiss artist’s work is rebellious and demanding

Finding a personal solution to the conflict takes time, but it is this engagement, which is surely the fulfillment of this fine artist’s intentions.

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