Love and Monsters: A Visit To The HR Giger Museum

From the aliens of Alien to Sil of Species, the Swiss surrealist’s unnerving biomechanical creatures lie in wait in a cheery medieval town known for its cheese.

by Patricia Chong, photo by HR Giger Museum

 

Gruyeres (yes, the cheese’s namesake) looks like something out of a postcard. Surrounded by Switzerland’s snowcapped mountains and green valleys, the cobblestoned medieval town is infuriatingly beautiful—it’s even got a castle and some restaurants with pretty waitresses in dirndls.

 

It is absolutely the last town that you expect to see aliens in, and yet, here we are—the HR Giger Museum, the home of the largest (and most impressive) collection of works by the Swiss surrealist you will most likely know from his work for the Alien movies. Built into a wing of Gruyeres’ aforementioned 400-year-old castle, the museum has been around for almost exactly 20 years.

 

It is also, arguably, the only place in this country that can legitimately give one the creeps—if not because of the way Giger meticulously rebuilt the place (hell, even the floor is covered in futuristic hieroglyphs), then simply for all the statues, paintings, and sketches depicting the artist’s nightmarish vision of a future where the biological meets the industrial.

 

 

The entry point to Giger’s world for many is, of course, Alien. The very first room you enter features his hyper-detailed sketches of all the creatures that appear in Ridley Scott’s iconic film (he’d done studies of everything from the mechanics of the Xenomorph’s jaws and tongue to actual models of its skull, complete with the translucent shell and wires).

 

But as you roam through the dimly lit, eerily quiet rooms (the absolute worst, or best, time to visit is on a weekday morning), you find yourself swallowed up in a future society of biomechanical creatures. Spaces are taken up by sinuous bodies assembled from both flesh and wire, slithering across caverns; cutaways of pistols, with mechanical babies for bullets; a landscape of New York City, where the buildings look like both machinery and knots of vertebrae. Most unnerving is an adults-only section of erotic artworks, with creatures sporting spikes on their bodies (we’ll let you imagine where) in impossible positions and with toys that look more like torture devices.

 

 

Up in the airier attic, Giger’s impressive private art collection—from artists like Salvador Dali, Joe Coleman, and Ernst Fuchs—is less disturbing. This isn’t saying a lot.

 

Those looking for cool-down as they step back out into the sunlight can drop by the Giger Bar next door. Sip at a cup of (spiked) coffee with Chantilly cream (or throw back a Face Hugger shot) as you sit back on skeletal chairs that Giger modeled after spines and pelvic bones. Looking up at the giant vertebrae crisscrossing across the bar’s vaulted ceilings, or simply out the round windows to the tour groups marching to the castle, you can breathe easy—but it’s difficult to shake the impression that you are still, quite literally, in the belly of the beast.