copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
H. R. Giger created the artwork upon which Alien’s xenomorphs are based. He also created the bizarre furniture--his chairs, for example, resemble the skeletal abdomens of things that might have been human beings, in their better days--which was featured in nightclubs, mostly in Europe, known as “Giger bars.”
He also created a large body of art--some sculpture, but mostly paintings--using , among other instruments, airbrushes. His work is of the type known as “biomechanical,” fusing the human and the mechanical into something that is both and neither. In most cases, the fusions involve females engaged in bizarre sexual behavior with machines or, less often, machine-men.
He’s mostly a sci fi artist, but his art also contains many horrific elements. To view it is to be disturbed, because his art is, well, disturbing. However, it has value beyond the merely entertaining and (in its own way) aesthetic. His paintings, in particular, can be interpreted as cautionary tales, told in imagery, rather than in words.
The Jewish theologian Martin Buber, in I and Thou, describes two ways by which a person may orient him- or herself to others. One may see the other as a fellow subjectivity, a “thou,” or one may regard all others as being inanimate objects, mere things, or “its.” The former way of relating to others allows love and the many emotions, good and bad, that flow from interpersonal relationships, whereas the latter way permits only a controlling situation in which others are simply means to an end, to be used and discarded at will by the only “thou” there is--oneself. Giger’s art shows the ultimate result of the “I-it” relationship, which reduces people to objects while dehumanizing the “I” who regards everyone else as merely an “it.”
Many of Giger’s painting involve sex of some sort of another, albeit seldom of a reproductive nature. However, there is never any intimacy or love in any of these acts. His cyborgs, mechanical and perfunctory, engage in sex simply for sex’s sake. Mostly, they are emotionless, although they occasionally express lust and rage. Often, the sex seems to involve rape--but, horribly enough, one cannot always be quite certain. The woman-as-machine appears to be being assaulted, suggesting that, despite her “biomechanical” character, she is not quite yet purely an object. Her partial humanity makes her situation even more horrible. Were she not still partially human, the paintings would still be weird, even, somehow, blasphemous, but it would be difficult to say that they are “horrible,” for there would be no violation of the human in them anymore if the woman and the machine were completely and truly fused. There is, still, despite the Industrial Revolution and the abuses of the military-industrial complex, a ghost in the machine, and it is this dualism of the spiritual and the material that makes Giger’s art horrific. In a completely materialistic universe, horror would not be possible, as Giger’s art suggests. In a way--in fact, precisely in this way--Giger’s art is like that of Hieronymus Bosch.
Indeed, some of Bosch’s paintings even depict the merger of man and machine, or the human and the mechanical. However, more of the demons that appear in Bosch’s work are strange hybrids of a human-animal mixture. Bosch lived before the Industrial Revolution provided a more or less systematic and elaborate framework for the framing of human-machine metaphors, so, in his day, people--particularly, sinners--were regarded more as bestial than as mechanical. In Giger’s time--which is to say, our time--the demonic is often seen as being more mechanical than bestial. The same impulse is at work in both metaphors, however. Man becomes demonic by becoming both other than and less than human. An animal-man is no longer a man, just as a machine-man (or, in Giger’s work, a machine-woman) is no longer a man.
C. S. Lewis cautions us that, every day, the choices we make and the actions we take make us a bit more like an angel or a little more like a devil, as the case may be, and that, in this manner, slowly and surely, we are creating the self that we shall be for eternity. Giger’s work, like Bosch’s before his, suggests something of the same thing, except that Giger’s art uses the machine in place of the animal or the demon to warn us of yet another lower form that we may take in denying the spiritual aspects both of ourselves, the “I,” and of the other, the “thou.”
Science fiction and horror writers have, in cruder fashion, perhaps, often told the same sort of cautionary tale. Whereas, in Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary conceives, bears, and finally delivers Satan’s child, in Dean Koontz’s Demon Seed, the protagonist is impregnated by a supercomputer that attains artificial intelligence. In The Terminator, militant machines have taken over, and only a time-traveling cyborg (a half-man, half-machine) can save humans from the world to come. In these cautionary tales (and many others), there’s a common threat, and this threat is the horror against which we are warned. As God created man in his image, so, too, does man create things in his own likeness.
The mechanical humans of Giger’s art are no less human than is Frankenstein’s monster, and the infant born of the Demon Seed’s protagonist is as much the child of humanity as Rosemary’s baby. We are in all things, because we project ourselves into all things, and we have created much of the world in which we live, including, to some degree, ourselves. Whenever, in doing so, we are content to be not only other but also less than we are, we are the monster in the looking-glass. That’s the theme of Buber, of Bosch, of Giger, and of the science fiction and horror fiction in which human beings are only too happy (and miserable) to accept a lesser status in creation than that with which they were created.