ALIEN EN­COUNTER

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION SWITZERLAND - BELINDA LUKSIC

In a small cas­tle, in the me­dieval Swiss town of Gruy­eres, I un­der­stand what Sigour­ney Weaver’s char­ac­ter Ellen Ri­p­ley must have felt coming face-to­face with the mon­ster in Ri­d­ley Scott’s 1978 movie Alien. For there, crouched on a low-slung ceil­ing, is the same alien, teeth bared, mus­cles taut, as if ready to pounce. Else­where, a she-machine with spiked nip­ples and horny spine sports its long whip-like tail and a sec­ond alien, ter­ri­fy­ingly tall with a gnash of teeth in an eye­less head.

Frankly, it’s all a bit thrilling, and as un­ex­pected as coming upon Mu­seum HR Giger and its col­lec­tion of Os­car-win­ning aliens here in this pic­turesque, walled city.

Dec­o­rat­ing a small hill in the up­per Saane Val­ley of Fri­bourg, in Switzerland’s west, Gruy­eres has the kind of fairy­tale good looks you’d ex­pect from a hill­top ham­let. It has a 13th-cen­tury cas­tle with French gar­den, moun­tain views, cob­ble­stone walk­ways and quaint wood­en­shut­tered houses.

Hud­dled in its foothills is La Mai­son du Gruyere, a cheese fac­tory with tours daily where golden wheels of the epony­mously named semi­hard cheese are made. It’s the cheese pop­u­lar in fon­due and the dish du jour at Le Chalet de Gruy­eres – a folksy restau­rant in town where we sam­ple both the clas­sic and the moitie-moitie (half-half ).

Alien cre­ator and Sur­re­al­ist artist H.R. Giger bought the 400-year old Chateau St Ger­main in 1998 and im­me­di­ately set about trans­form­ing the ram­bling ed­i­fice into a place to house his ma­jor works. He re­placed the floors with so-called “biome­chan­i­cal ma­trix” floor plates, cast alu­minium en­graved with com­puter-code hi­ero­glyphs, and turned the in­te­rior into a dark, fore­bod­ing lair. It opened to the pub­lic in June that same year.

The per­ma­nent col­lec­tion in­cludes early sketches of the aliens, Ne­cro­nomi­con, the 1977 com­pen­dium of hor­ror that first cap­tured Ri­d­ley Scott’s imag­i­na­tion, art­works from the 1960s un­til Giger’s death in 2014 and “mechanoids”, his futuristic hu­man-machine forms. There’s an as­sort­ment of movie mem­o­ra­bilia, too – a clutch of film posters, props and aliens from Poltergeist II and the Alien and Species movie fran­chises.

Noth­ing, though, pre­pares you for Giger’s biome­chan­i­cal art.

Large in scale, some fill­ing en­tire walls, the air­brushed works are ex­plicit and dis­turbingly provoca­tive. Machine-girls in var­i­ous state of un­dress – some in lin­gerie, legs spread wide; with oth­ers en­twined and joined to black-faced crea­tures. Oth­ers are giv­ing birth to ten­ta­cled be­ings.

The ef­fect, par­tic­u­larly in one room so nar­row I’m forced to stand eye­level mere cen­time­tres from the knick­er­less splay of a ma­chinewoman in red. Her gaze, in­sou­ciant at best, is dis­con­cert­ingly erotic.

On a fi­nal lap of the mu­seum and its pro­lif­er­a­tion of dis­qui­et­ing forms, I be­lat­edly no­tice an­other “alien”. This one is quite small, be­hind a glass par­ti­tion in the wall. It’s the Os­car Giger won in 1980 for Alien. Sur­real, in­deed.

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