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H.R. Giger’s nightmares leave a lasting image

Posted on May 27, 2014 by Taber Times

On May 12, an old man fell down and died, and the world became poorer for it.

Swiss artist Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger, known to most of the world as H.R. Giger, died in a Zurich hospital at the age of 76.

Giger was a Swiss painter and sculptor who is most famous for his monster designs for the 1979 dark science fiction masterpiece, “Alien”.

I never knew the word “biomechanical” before I was introduced to Giger’s work in the 1990s. I had a peripheral idea of what the man was capable of through the Alien franchise, but until that point I was too young to appreciate the work and the statement it made.

Giger’s focus often centred around a fusion of man and machine reserved for nightmare. His art is full of humanity smashing against technology with horrific results.

Take a human body and saw it in half. Any direction, it doesn’t really matter.

Replace the missing parts with titanium and gears and leather buckles and attach the parts with hoses and wires and stitches. Do it to men and women alike. Do it to babies. These were my first impressions of Giger outside the “Alien” movies.

But there is more to Giger’s work than simply mashing together two things which were never meant to be blended.

The creatures in his work give you the distinct impression they are the optimal versions of themselves. You see finesse in their poses. You see natural comfort there. They are not the products of torture. They are not Frankenstein’s monster. They are products of evolution, and in that I believe Giger saw a version of humanity we are just beginning to realize.

We all fear the cold penetration of technology and science into our lives. There’s a comfort level which varies wildly depending on who you ask. Some of us hate the thought of computers one day thinking on their own, or fear the use of robotics to improve our day-to-day lives. Others, myself included, welcome our inevitable growth toward biomechanical beings. A species integrating and improving directly off its own created environment. It’s symbiosis of a kind seen only in nature.

Giger’s work allows us to stand apart from that future and look upon it with a cold eye. It allows us to absorb the “other” while feeling both familiar and alien simultaneously. It looks and feels monstrous, but we sense, for the beings in his art, their lives are exactly as they should be, and we are the ones who are strange and unnatural.

Oh, and they’re loaded with sex. Oozing with it. What is more human than that?

The influence of the man on culture has been immense in many circles, and subtle in others. But always it’s there, floating on the edge of our minds. His work has been directly seen in Hollywood through the “Alien” series, “Poltergeist II”, and the movie “Species”, among others;

In music, the 1973 cover for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” featured one of his visions, as have a host of death metal album covers from Danzig to Celtic Frost to Swiss extreme metal band Tryptykon.

Korn frontman Jonathan Davis commissioned a special female biomechanical microphone stand, two of which he owns and one which can be seen in the H.R. Giger museum; There are several popular “H.R. Giger” themed bars in Switzerland; Giger’s work has also spawned it’s own genre of fetish design and tattoos.

But some of the best places to see the way Giger’s art has inspired us is in the world of video games and in fiction. Any video game featuring science fiction and horror elements seems to feel incomplete without a passing nod to Giger’s work.

And William Gibson, the Canadian writer who gave solid form to the cyberpunk genre with his groundbreaking classic “Neuromancer”, was himself inspired by the work of Giger to the extent he made several mentions of the man in his novel as a tribute to Giger’s influence.

Giger was good friends with Timothy Leary, who once said this about the man and his art:

“Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”

I have no idea where H.R. Giger is going now that he has left us. But thanks to him, I have a better idea of where we are all going, some day.

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