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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.