GIGER OF GRUYÈRES - ALIEN
WALK RIGHT UP FOR A CLOSE UP OF THE ALIEN BITCH
It’s a steep walk from Gruyères railway station to the historic Swiss hilltop
village of Gruyères, world famous for its cheese. But Gruyères (population 300)
has a dark secret which only the most curious – or well informed – will
discover: the gallery of H. R. Giger, Oscar winning designer of ‘the bitch’ in
Alien and other things similarly subversive, erotic, fantastic and out of this
world, as Andrew L. Urban discovers.
Inside the walls of this ancient village is a small cobbled ‘town’ square with a
small fountain, several little restaurants and a modest souvenir shop – which
also serves the best gruyere baguette sandwiches this side of cheese heaven.
"provocative and intriguing"
But if you turn right coming out of this shop, walk through the square and
through a narrow lane that leads to the udderlating cowtryside where the raw
material for Gruyères cheese comes from, on the right you will find the entrance
to the H. R. Giger Museum. You can’t miss it; the metallic silent sentinel by
the entrance is a tightly squatting figure, possibly female, eyes hidden behind
what seems like large flying goggles from the bi-plane era, but with heavy
screws around each eyepiece. The mouth is set in a firm ‘whaddayawant’ and there
is a hose that winds around her neck. It/she holds a strange, slight weapon, its
barrel extending up in front of her left eyepiece.
Small but muscly and carrying a strange back pack, this bald figure (titled
Gogglebaby) is at once provocative and intriguing. Enter with care - and leave
your preconceptions (and children) outside.
(at left) Deathbirthmachine III; (at right) Zodiac series: Aquarius
The entrance is a spacious lobby, within which stands a shiny black frame with
curvy legs that remind us of insects, housing the reception desk. The
receptionist is in her 20s, symmetrically pierced with studs in ears, nostrils,
lips and even cheeks, her black hair in a straight fringe. She gives a gothic
grin and takes our money (12.50/8.50). Behind this welcome installation are the
shelves and display stands that you might find in any such gallery – except the
merchandise and posters don’t look anything like your run of the mill tourist
stuff. Books, furniture, portfolios, jewellery, poster, alueloxal prints,
limited edition prints, sculptures, limited edition sculptures, rarities and
miniatures all echo the works on display elsewhere – radical, erotic,
Giger in one of the main rooms
As soon as we leave the entrance lobby and begin climbing the stairs the
house seems to swallow us. The real world has receded. Narrow stairs take us to
the first level, past smaller artworks from or inspired by the designs for
Alien. On the three levels of this old house, Giger exhibits an array of
paintings, sculptures, replicas and posters that have a singular signature. The
museum houses, intact, most of Giger’s film designs, including the artwork of
Alien and Alien 3, Dune, Species, Poltergeist 2 and The Mystery of San Gottardo.
The Alien, famously called ‘the bitch’ by Sigourney Weaver’s character in the
film, is ferociously striking. Almost hypnotic in her stillness, her shiny,
elongated skull and familiar double mouth with small, savage teeth and its
powerful torso … we move closer for a sharper look, feeling a slight
trepidation. Did the bitch just move her mouth?
Why here in tiny cheesy Gruyères? It all began in 1990, when to celebrate his
50th birthday, Giger was invited to mount a major retrospective of his work at
the Château de Gruyères. The exhibition, Alien dans ses meubles (Alien in the
Furniture), was a huge success, attended by 110,000 visitors.
After many visits to Gruyères, Giger fell in love with the place and when he
heard that the Château St. Germain was up for sale, the idea to establish his
own museum and a Center of Fantastic Art was born: on September 11, 1997, he
acquired the Château. With the help of the architect Roger Cottier, the former
museum director Barbara Gawrysiak and a team of supporters, the museum opened
(most of its) doors on June 21, 1998.
H.R. Giger was born in 1940 in Chur, 300 kms across Switzerland from Gruyères.
Even as a child he had a passion for all things surreal and macabre.
Meticulously detailed, Giger’s paintings are usually created in large formats
and worked and reworked. His fascinating biomechanical style, a unique synthesis
of flesh and machine, has been realized not only through his remarkable
paintings but also via sculptures, elegantly bizarre furniture, and
architectural and interior design projects. His paintings have been displayed in
galleries and museums throughout the world.
"we step back into the real world"
Breathless with the intensity of Giger’s artistic embrace, we step back into
the real world and walk across the lane to the Giger Bar to catch our breath,
but the biomechanical fusion of his world continues, offering more of the
fantastic atmosphere. The black, high backed, swivel bar stools have humanoid
spines, the décor is alien, as is one of the coffee options (with or without
alcohol, your choice).
The Giger Bar (Photo by Louise Keller)
It’s almost surreal to see normal humans sipping drinks and to hear them talking
French, German, English and Dutch. What are humans doing in here…. Reluctantly,
we eventually leave and walk down the cobbled lane to the Medieval walls of the
village, furtively glancing over our shoulder to see whether the bitch had
escaped and was dribbling in our direction.
We had back down the hill towards the railway station, opposite which is the
tourist heart of Gruyères, a building which houses the cheese storage unit
(visible through glass walls as robotic arms move the cheese wheels around), a
souvenir supermarket and the café/restaurant. We caught the 11.45, one of the
frequent morning trains from Montreux (takes just over an hour); the first class
wagon is the Classic Goldpass, reminiscent of the Orient Express with its wood
panelled cars, shiny brass luggage racks and pale green padded velour armchair
seats (74.31 euro, 1st class return for 2).
It’s mid afternoon and school is out; giggling schoolgirls clamber onboard,
unaware that two aliens from Australia are in their midst, who have just visited
the Giger of Gruyères, a world without cows, right in the middle of dairy
Published October 28, 2010
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The Ultimate Collection Featuring All Four ALIEN Films releases on Blu-ray from November 3, 2010 with never-before-seen bonus material and the
debut of the groundbreaking interactive experience, MU-TH-UR Mode
HR GIGER MUSEUM
Apr - Oct: open every day 10am – 6pm
Nov - March: Tue - Fri 1pm – 5pm;
Sat / Sun 10am – 6pm;
Tickets: 8 Euros
The silent sentinel outside
Giger at the entrance to his museum
The Giger Bar
The medieval village of Gruyeres