Necronomicon, Hans R. Giger, $69.50, 1999, Morpheus International, Beverly Hills, CA, 90212, pps. 86

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"Unfortunately, I seem to have an uncanny knack of attracting people
who are psychically ill. They suddenly see their own problems represented
in my pictures and they think I am one of them. They waste my valuable time
with their shitty problems and look on me as their free psychiatrist.

People who like my pictures should buy my catalogues and posters, not insist
on visiting me and expect me to play the fool for their entertainment. . . .
Naturally I make an exception for my friends,
and for the beautiful women in the world."

-- H. R. Giger

Because of its shocking graphics, this large-sized art book may not appear on many coffee tables. Doing serious work since 1966, Hans R. Giger toiled for many years as a relatively unknown graphic designer. His initial world-wide call to fame was the result of his artful and macabre design of the space creature in the movie, Alien, his success no doubt propelled into public view by the best selling Necronomicon art book. For his work In Alien he received an academy award in 1980.

The motifs of birth, death and sex are the predominant subjects of Giger's art. Czech/American psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, believes that death and sex are intimately linked with one another, especially during the time period around birth. In his book, The Cosmic Game, Grof calls this trinity of themes, important routes to transcendence and spirituality. He believes that there is deep connection between the three -- a cosmic connection -- which can allow us to reunite with the source of our being.

Dr Grof writes that it is understandable why birth and death are intimately related in the human psyche because for eons there was the ever present risk of fetus and/or mother dying during childbirth. For many, birth is extremely painful both psychologically and physically. On a symbolic level, the fetus may feel he has become born again after first having faced near death in the birth canal. He feels born again as he realizes that the birth ordeal is over and abandoning his previous aquatic existence, begins a new life as an air breathing being. Inexplicably, the trauma of birth can also trigger sexual arousal, both for the fetus and the delivering mother. In this respect, birth can be similar to other traumatically painful events, such as prolonged executions and torture.

It is the unholy alliance of those three motifs which is a commonly re-occurring theme in the works of the surrealistic painter, Hans R. Giger. In Beyond the Brain, Grof calls Giger ". . . a genius with an uncanny ability to portray the nightmarish world of the negative perinatal matrices."

Reproduced with permission

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Hans Ruedi Giger was born in 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. As a youth he was a poor student. The only subject in which he excelled was art, so it was natural, after taking a course in interior and industrial design, for him to drift into picture drawing to make a living. His first few exhibitions did not draw many visitors or sales.

From the beginning of his career, powerful and feelingful elements, seemingly inspired by repressed memories of a traumatic birth, appeared from his talented hand. He willingly acknowledges that themes of birth trauma appear in his works.

By 1966 he had begun producing a series of 'shaft' pictures which had their original origins in dreams. Bottomless shafts, undoubtedly representative of the birth canal, surrounded by a series of steep banisterless stairways embodying fear and danger predominated these pictures. Other works produced at that time had birth allusions, and included underground cities as well as buried bio-mechanoids. These humanoid beings combined features of humans with mechanical equipment. These creatures were to become featured in many of his future drawings.

Continuing the birth trauma passage theme in his art, Giger later became engrossed with 'passages.' These pictures were the result of a series of dreams. He writes, "in these I usually found myself in a large white room without doors or windows, the only exit a dark, iron opening barred by an iron hoop halfway along. Moreover, in passing through this opening, I regularly got stuck." He found himself stuck in the tube-like structure with his arms pressed to his sides and being unable to go back from whence he had come or move forward. And besides that, he felt that he was running out of air!

The birth trauma theme repeats as the artist describes one of his most unpleasant dreams: Lying on his bed with the walls of the room pulsating in rhythm with his heart beat, he felt the urge to void and described the edge of the toilet bowl growing towards his penis "like a wide open vagina as if to castrate" him. He was amused but soon the room he was in became smaller and smaller. The walls of the room were like wounds and confined him like lumps of flesh.

Feeling a need to vomit, he feared returning to the bathroom. The nightmare continued as he and his girlfriend went outside. Everything and everyone there seemed hostile. He felt that even a ditch on the side of the road would devour him. The pavement where he was walking was at such an angle that it seemed that it would propel him into the ditch. He returned to the room, but the confined space brought back feelings of nausea. He could endure the torment no longer and wanted to kill himself, but since his girlfriend did not know how to remove the bullets from the gun, he had to do it himself. He then immediately felt the urge to suicide as nonsensical and immediately awakened!

Such dreams as recounted by Hans Giger are typical of those with unresolved birth trauma. Psychologist Arthur Janov, the discoverer of primal therapy, writes in Imprints, The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, about how blocked feelings of death at birth can intrude into our dream lives and awaken us. He further writes: "Possibly the closest most of us will come to death is when we first come to life. The experience of having come very close to death at birth may leave one with death feelings against which one fights for a lifetime."

In a series of 'stillbirth machine' pictures, Giger depicts the birth process as a nightmare of torture in which the suffering fetus is delivered from the birthing mother with the aid of a panoply of complicated machinery which seem to exist for the sole purpose of torturing her offspring.

Many of Giger's works combine the elements of ritualized torture with sexuality. All of Giger's women, including birthing mothers, seem to be cold and detached, although having classically beautiful faces. Appearing physically fit, they are all extremely thin and long limbed, In a section of Necronomicon written by Dr. Fritz Billeter, there appears a description of these mothers:

Their genitals appear separated, transformed and then almost devouring. . . . they suffer a tortuous relationship with the machinery to which they are connected. They stand, sit and crouch in motionless positions. They expose themselves or are exposed -- 'as in a sex manual,' the artist commented once. . . . The combination of torture and eroticism, which is repeatedly found in Christianity, is represented in the faces of Giger's women. Their eyes look as if they are closed with painful ecstasy. . . . The faces facial expressions take on features of tortured, orgiastic lust.

Throughout the ages, in art, especially in surrealistic paintings, there have been allusions to the themes of the torment of birth, rapture of sexuality and the hopelessness and despair of death. However, in the work of H. R. Giger, the feelingful artistic depictions of the physical and emotional sufferings endured by the fetus during the trauma of birth, has reached its summit in both real and symbolic expression.

H. R. Giger's Official U. S. Site

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