- Christian Hain
In Space and Art, Nobody Can Hear You Scream - A Gigern-tesque Alien Invasion of Schinkel Pavillon
(Berlin.) Day-to-day being confronted with the apalling ugliness of Berlin, how many times have we not mentally quoted James Cameron's Aliens, the second instalment in the movie franchise: "I say, we take off…."?!
Turns out, Ms. Nina Pohl, Berlin photography artist with her own exhibition space "Schinkel Pavillon", cherishes the same feeling of alienation - …well, at least she seems a fellow fan of the classic SciFi Horror franchise (would you rather file it under the "creature feature" subgenre, my dear movie nerds?), presenting the second show in a row with works of Hansruedi, alternative spelling: Hansrüdi, Giger, a.k.a. HR Giger, born Hans Rudolf Giger, the Swiss artist who designed and brought that critter to "life", i.e. film, and who's been working in a similar vein all his career.
Today's show might have been conceived with a nod at the spin-off movies Alien vs. Predator (which, if I'm not mistaken, first saw the light of this world as a series of cartoons - no: "graphic novels" you call it today), putting HR Giger in the tradition of 20th Century German puppetmaster, and overall sort of disturbed character, Hans Bellmer (thanks to the graces of an early birth, his works can still be shown today, when totalitarian cancel culture would absolutely annihilate every living artist doing the same - Schinkel stresses the artist's opposition to the National Socialist body ideal and cautiously omits the more problematic aspects of his work).
Quite frankly, we missed the first Giger show at Schinkel in late 2021 for once again not having paid attention to all newsletters in our mailbox. Now showing up for the sequel, we forgot to bring any proof of (yeah, I know: pseudo-) journalistic activity, but instead of trying to talk our way in, decided to donate the - modest! - entrance fee of 5 Euros in support of the venue. …Thinking about it again: Miss Pohl is with market powerhouse SM - Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London, Hollywood, so there are probably few financial restraints to her entertaining this space… Be that as it may, not having been here for a while, the first thing that strikes the eye is the reception desk that has - finally! - moved to where it belongs, behind the entrance door on street level. It was upstairs before, which was always confusing for newbies, plus they needed one more intern to guard the downstairs part from unpaying intruders.
Entering the show… - well: isn't she a beauty?! No, not the intern behind that reception desk but the creature, that alien - or to stay "in canon": the xenomorph, cowering here, ready to jump at defenseless visitors (you'd need a rather sophisticated armory to stand any chance)! "Beautiful" of course is only half the truth, everybody who's familiar with the movies will experience that certain feeling of unease, and gaze around for an escape route - this is "the art of the uncanny" in a very popcultural sense. To correct a mistake you might have noticed: It's not an Alien queen, but a mere "male" drone (those films were progressive!), and much smaller than you'd imagine it, more 'gator than dinosaur (or more 'raptor than T-Rex). Without a doubt, HR Giger (who deceased in 2014 and no, not eaten by- too early?) deserved every single cent he earned with his creation, and there were many of them, aliens and cents (make that "Rappen"): He captured the very essence of a decidedly not vegan, but omni- and this includes "anthropo-"phagous killer machine.
"You're not you, when you're hungry", the specimen at Schinkel even nibbled away at its pedestal, taking out some large chunks!
We generally avoid to make any mention of that pretentious, pseudo-theological, bull- or well: xenomorphshi**ery, that are the prequel movies Alien: Prometheus and Alien: Covenant (never even watched that one), but at least one drawing on the surrounding walls could allude to the backstory elaborated in them. The drawings are impressive in their own right, yet seem much more technical/illustrative than the sculpture. The eternal question, "Is it art or handicraft?" shall concern us only in passing today, only so much: The handful of Bellmer drawings hidden away in a niche immediately feel more "arty" than Giger's creations, more fitting into an art context, the most interesting among them being an open book with a drawing and some reflections on his historic inspirations by the artist.
Next room, and I think we haven't mentioned Schinkel's unique architecture yet, a pompous neo-classicist building that has been erected in 1968 to serve the authorities in GDR Socialism for party get-togethers - and whoever knows what else, the white tiled walls downstairs evoking creepy associations of a different breed of horror movies set in the slaughterhouse chic of derelict asylums - there just have to be blood stains somewhere!
Taking one step back again before we go down there: The crude sexual connotations of that movie monster with its phallic head are quite obvious and have often been described before; there's also its rather complicated reproductive cycle involving the sacrifice of a host body (certain species of wasps do the same irl, or was it spiders nesting in paralyzed wasps?!) to summon primal fears of a (very) bloody birth, this latter connotation having been rather dragged out by Jean-Pierre Junot in Alien: Resurrection with an almost cute but emotionally unstable alien-human chimera created in a genetical experiment… writing about it, this sounds all very B-movie trashy indeed.
Given all that, and having been a fan of the franchise for years, I've never spent a single thought on interspecial alien sex - but Hansrüdi did, and more often than you'd think was good for him: The following artworks not only remind of Surrealism (as his whole body of work does), but also of a different species of drawing - say "half Simon Hantaï and half hentai cartoons". This no longer belongs in the movie universe as we know it, but Giger created a whole world beyond the films, where those critters and other phantastic beings procreate with humans in the old-fashioned way. Maybe just call it cartoon porn, in grey and somehow distorted.
Continuing, we experienced one of those insigificant events in life that are as improbable as true: In the next room, a small TV is screening the first 117 minutes long Alien feature film in a loop all day. The very moment we turned around the corner having contemplating the aforementioned drawings, it arrived at that one scene starting the showdown, when the camera pans to some rather revealing closeups of Lt. Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) panties, gliding into her space suit while the murderous creature is lurking close by.
On the walls, we discover storyboards and preparatory drawings for Alien 3, in one example the xenomorph looking quite relaxed, dozing away and almost resembling a sleepy dog, such a gooood boy!… Wait, wasn't there a dog in Alien 3, and it didn't end well for him?! before in a compartment behind a warning sign for the faint at heart, things get x-rated again in orgies involving more or less humanoid participants, and this time, Giger added quotes from the Marquis de Sade.
Schinkel's staircase is adorned with historic (well, maybe dating from the 1960s, too) wall reliefs, and the one depicting Leda and the Swan (almost looks like the Reichsadler?!) fits today's mood particularly well. In the many mirrored room behind, visitors are welcomed by bony chairs around a bony dinner table, and yes: those are spinal columns, but no, I wouldn't really associate "Frida" here (although they might induce the old school masculist to rather abstract musings, "would you rather be bitten by the Alien Queen, or be kissed by Frida's mustache…?"). Should you wonder, why all this time, we only talk about Giger and hardly ever mention Bellmer, the answer is that despite the exhibition's title: Giger & Bellmer, there are only few works of the latter. It's clearly not a Bellmer, nor a Bellmer and Giger show, but "Giger and the Bellmer influence" (i.e. more or less conscious similarites in style).
You'll find, however, some more works of Dirty Hans upstairs, and to be frank: the comparison doesn't seem fair to Giger, in every single instance proving how he cannot hold his own in terms of artistic prowess. Bellmer's images of mutilated underage girl-dolls procure fewer jumpscare effects, but they are all the more creepy in a psychological way. It even needs to be said, that the bigger and more colourful Giger gets, the less skillful his images appear, sometimes almost touching on the DeviantArt Fan Fic… Maybe, we should just remember him as a highly gifted set designer, sculptor and even installation artist!
And that's it, on our way home we took the Berlin metro again instead of the spaceship USCSS Nostromo, pondering how incredibly boring that eponymous Joseph Conrad novel is. This text, by the way, is our only movie related writing this winter, having not asked for another Berlinale accreditation.
P.S.: The YouTube clip behind the link in this article's first phrase has obviously been upladed in .mpeg, .mov, or a similar file format (for more detailed information, we'd need to contact that YouTuber). Isn't it funny, how many people whose lifestyle makes every art dealer in the world dream of adding them to their spam- well: newsletter list, would spend millions of dollars if it were an NFT instead - simply because they and their peer group have arbitrarily decided to believe in that value?
HR Giger & Hans Bellmer, 22 January - 20 March 2022, Schinkel Pavillon World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism