Monday, July 2, 2007

Hieronymus Lives!

Back in April, when Pamela and I were in Germany, we took a dash down to Gruyeres, Switzerland. (A real dash--although we spent three nights, I received mail from our rental-car company telling me I'd been issued an automatic speeding ticket by a camera in some Swiss tunnel. I still haven't seen the ticket, so I have no idea what this is going to cost me.)


Gruyeres. Yep, the cheese place. Now, I quite like cheese (there's a line there about fond of fondue but I haven't got the patience right now), but the reason for our trip was to visit the H.R. Giger Museum.

Gruyeres is a Renaissance walled village perched on a wooded hill (with the Alps as a backdrop). It has about 1,500 inhabitants, a village church, a graveyard, a castle--the usual, but all remarkably well preserved, and almost distressingly scenic.

We weren't there to immerse ourselves in the glories of the past, however (though that aspect was pleasant enough). For some reason, Giger has elected to place his museum in Gruyeres. Our boy Hans-Rudi is indeed Swiss, but he isn't Gruyerian (is that a word?). Something about the town must have caught his eye. So he established a museum of his own works--and, across the little cobbled street, built what must be the coolest bar in the universe (see next pic).

Perhaps he simply wanted to annoy certain people. One of the websites that sings the praises of Gruyeres is less than enthused about his museum: "This, though, is as nothing compared with the truly nasty H.R. Giger Museum. Giger...bought one of the old houses, and has turned it into a showcase for his unique brand of grotesque art, sexualized surrealist visions of machine-like humanoids, nightmarish cityscapes and fantasy-porn gynaecological obsessions crowding over three dark and unpleasant floors... Heaven help Gruyères."

Giger--the Oscar-winning artist who designed the movie (and creature) Alien--is indeed challenging. And spending hours in his museum does in fact leave one a tiny bit unnnerved. To me, this is evidence that he's the real thing--an artist. After a few hours, he knocks you off balance.

Fortunately, your balance can easily be restored in his lovely biomechanical bar, no more than a dozen steps across the street. Above, my partner Pamela relaxes at a window seat with a glass of the local Pinot Noir. By the time you've been through the whole museum (and marinated in a couple of glasses of wine), the arched vertabrae supporting the ceilings and the electro-organic chairs of the bar seem rather restful.

Even the wall of distressed fetuses backing the single booth to the west seems pleasant after a while. All in all, the effect of the museum and the bar is like a prolonged immersion in the memento mori art of the medieval monasteries. Given enough time, waves of horror are as calming as waves on the sand of a beach.
Stanislav Grof--probably the most important thinker in psychology and psychiatry since Freud and Jung got the ball rolling back in the post-Victorian days--is an unrepentant Hans-Rudi Giger fan. He thinks Giger's artwork represents, in its various forms, the aspects of the four perinatal matrices of birth trauma, and links them to the collective unconscious, so-called 'past-life' experiences, and a thousand other primitive birth-and-death scenarios.

I have to agree. Giger is disturbing becasue he touches on something fundamental. Hieronymus Bosch and Hans Holbein did the same, though they were tolerated because they couched their work in a religious tradition. And the Mayan stone carvings, and Balinese masks, and Javanese Wayang plays, and the Mexican Day of the Dead--they all dance to the same beat. (Even if the fellow cited above thinks it's 'truly nasty.')

One thing I didn't mention is that the Giger Museum has Giger's collection of other artists' paintings on its top floor, and also has an annex with changing exhibits of individual fantastic or surreal artists whom Giger thinks the world needs to see. It's rather generous of him, really, since the whole affair could have been a celebration of himself; but Giger's actually a pussycat. (A severely self-tormented pussycat, but a pussycat nonetheless.)

If you're in the neighborhood--'the neighborhood' being the middle of nowhere roughly halfway from Basel to Geneva--drop through. If nothing else, it's a cute town. And has great fondue. And sells absinthe. What else do you need?

3 comments:

May said...

I don't dare to tell you about Swiss speeding tickets which are expensive unless you exceeded the limit of just a few miles. Wait before paying and find out if you really have to.

David Isaak said...

Since I'd been driving down from Germany (VROOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!), and am by birth and nature a Clifornian, I'm guessing I was exceeding it by more than a little bit.

I'll certainly wait and see. The car rental company already charged me 11 Euros for turning my name and address over to the Swiss authorities, though. So, we're off to a promising start!

May said...

Bastards. Hire a lawyer.