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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Dark side of the mind

Posted: 17 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

HR Giger 1940-2014

Surrealist artist and set designer HR Giger's chest-bursting monster in the 1979 film Alien gained him worldwide acclaim.

Several elements were vital to the effectiveness of the 1979 horror film Alien, which was essentially an old-fashioned haunted house story relocated to deep space. (Its own director, Ridley Scott, called it "a C-movie done in an A-way".) Chief among them was the visceral and disquieting design work by the Swiss surrealist artist HR Giger, who died on Monday aged 74 from injuries sustained in a fall.

Giger's "biomechanical" style was born out of his experience of night terrors and the art therapy in which he partook to combat this sleeping disorder. It is fair to say that he has been responsible in his own way for disrupting the sleep of others.

"People are either thrilled or terrified by Giger's art," said the Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs. "No one else knows how to depict the most horrific nightmares so stunningly beautifully." The novelist and film-maker Clive Barker observed: "Giger seems to be painting aliens but the closer you look, the more you realise he's painting twisted versions of us."

Alien centred on an intergalactic cargo vessel which touches down on a desolate planet in response to a distress signal. The crew inadvertently picks up a carnivorous life form. It later bursts from the chest of one crew member in the most memorable entrance of any film character since Orson Welles stepped from the shadows in The Third Man. The infant monster is smooth, eyeless and bulbous, both foetal and absurdly phallic, with a row of silver milk-teeth and a lashing, segmented tail.

"It was Francis Bacon's work that gave me the inspiration," said Giger. "(It) would come tearing out of the man's flesh with its gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth ... it's pure Bacon."

The alien flees the scene of its birth and is glimpsed at subsequent stages of its accelerated development as it picks off the crew one by one. Still apparently without eyes, it has now grown as tall as a Harlem Globetrotter. Its entire head takes the form of a gleaming, elongated shell that suggests a futuristic crash helmet. Within its vast jaw are rows of teeth emerging like drawers in a filing cabinet. A tendency to drool lends it a lascivious element. All this grotesqueness never quite undermines its allure.

In the final scene, the monster is blasted into space by the only survivor, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Both she and her nemesis returned in three sequels of contrasting flavours: James Cameron's wham-bam Aliens (1986), David Fincher's clammy, intense Alien 3; (1992) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's comic-book-style Alien Resurrection (1997). Giger's designs were central to each of those sequels, as well as two crossovers with the Predator franchise – Alien vs Predator (2004) and Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007).

But his involvement was not always harmonious, or even acknowledged. "With the fourth Alien film, they just took my creations, they used my 'chest-burster' and they didn't even give me any credit. It's offensive." He had a happier experience contributing to Scott's own Alien prequel, Prometheus (2012).

Giger was brought on board Alien at the suggestion of its screenwriter, Dan O'Bannon. Both men had been collaborating in the late 1970s with the cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on an adaptation of Frank Herbert's science-fiction epic Dune, which was never made (though Giger's designs for the abandoned project can be seen in a 2013 documentary called Jodorowsky's Dune). O'Bannon introduced Giger's 1977 book Necronomicon to Scott, who seized in particular upon the painting Necronom IV, and commissioned him to design a creature based on this.

"I was the first one to go see him in Switzerland and persuade him to get on a plane," said Scott. "He wouldn't get on a plane, because he was afraid of flying. And he finally came to Shepperton. Never went into town, stayed over a pub in Shepperton. Very non-Giger, not exotic. He was in a room over a pub and he was happy there."

The artist built a prototype incorporating Rolls-Royce parts, rib bones and reptile vertebrae. His responsibilities expanded also to include the design of a partially fossilised figure (sometimes referred to as the "space jockey") seen when the crew explore the planet, as well as the planet itself (LV-426). Plainly put, his influence permeates Alien. Giger was deservedly part of the team rewarded when the film won the Visual Effects Oscar in 1980.

He was born Hans Rudolf Giger in Chur, Switzerland, which he called "unbearable", characterised by "high mountains (and) bourgeois attitudes". The family home was a place of early terror. He later wrote in Necronomicon of the cellar as "a monstrous labyrinth where all kinds of dangers lay in wait for me" and of "steep and treacherous wooden stairways without banisters (that) led down into the yawning abyss."

Other boys played with toy cars but Giger could usually be seen dragging a skull on wheels behind him; he constructed ghost trains in the garden. His father, Hans, was a chemist who encouraged Giger to study industrial design, which he did along with architecture at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. His mother, Melly, to whom he was close, was more encouraging of his provocative style of painting, drawing and sculpture. An early muse was the actor Li Tobler, with whom Giger had a tempestuous relationship. Tobler, who killed herself in 1975, was the inspiration for the wan, wilted females in his paintings.

Giger worked predominantly in inks and oils at first. His use of the airbrush soon became integral to his art, bringing a slick smoothness to images which oscillated between the grisly and the sensuous, often accommodating both. He prized the airbrush's "tremendous directness" and said that it enabled him to "project my visions directly onto the pictorial surface, freezing them immediately". But he abandoned it near the end of his career when it was adopted by artists with whom he did not want to be associated: "I could damage my reputation, since much of what they do is pure kitsch. I keep myself apart from that. I see myself as a surrealist."

He gained widespread exposure after being featured on the cover of the 1973 Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery. In the early 1970s, he made several short documentaries about his work. His fame increased following the release of Alien, and he took on occasional and usually unfulfilling work on other films, among them Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), the Alien-influenced Species (1995) and the 1996 German horror-comedy Killer Condom (tagline: "The rubber that rubs you out!"). He also collaborated on several Giger bars, including two in Switzerland, which reproduced his aesthetic in a social setting.

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1982. He is survived by his second wife, Carmen, director of the HR Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland, whom he married in 2006. – Guardian News & Media

Process of reflection

Posted: 17 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Local artists redefine what it means to be a woman in Malaysia today.

A faithful wife. A doting mother. A selfless homemaker who also works hard for her money. A supermodel beauty who covers herself and protects her modesty.

These ideas of a "good" woman are deeply etched in our social consciousness.

But have we ever asked ourselves who planted them there? Whose ideas are they? Who judges what is "good" or "bad"?

The Good Malaysian Woman: Ethnicity, Religion, Politics exhibition, currently on at Black Box, MAP Publika, raises exactly these questions.

"We hear it a lot – 'Be a good girl,' 'Good girls never do that,' – but if I ask someone, 'Are you a good Malaysian woman?' her reaction will likely be what do you mean by 'good'?

"All in Grace" by Anisa Abdullah. It is one of the works showing at  â¿¿The Good Malaysian Woman: Ethnicity, Religion, Politicsâ¿¿, exhibition organised by AWAM and  Interpr8 Art Space, which will be held from 18 to 25 May, 2014, Black Box, MAP Publika, in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur.

All In Grace by Anisa Abdullah.

"This is what we want to do: to poke people into reflecting about what is accepted as 'good' (in women) by society," says Sharmin Parameswaran, one of the curators of the show.

Featuring 22 Malaysian women artists, the exhibition is a collaboration between Interpr8 Art Space and women's rights group All Women's Action Society (Awam).

As Awam assistant programme manager Lee Wei San points out, while some stereotypes have been entrenched in society for a long time, the growing politicisation of ethnic and religion in Malaysia today is further affecting women's sense of self, community and nationality.

"Intolerance around ethnic and religious issues has particular effects on women. Women, more so than men, are pressured to speak, behave, or dress in specific ways. Women are also stigmatised or persecuted when they do not conform to accepted gender roles, or fit within what society imagines as the 'the good Malaysian woman.'"

Crucially, the exhibition is an attempt to represent women from their own eyes while celebrating their diversity and complexity.

Tolerance! by Shia Yih Ying

Tolerance! by Shia Yih Ying.

"We wanted to make it about women projecting images of their own construct, not of somebody else's construct. And here we have 22 different ways of looking at what it means to be a woman in Malaysia today," adds Sharmin's co-curator Sunitha Janamohanan.

Some of the artists featured include Shia Yih Ying, Yee I-Lann, Aisyah Baharuddin, Intan Rafiza, Sharon Chin and Anisa Abdullah.

"We looked for female artists who were already addressing current issues in their practice.

"At the same time, we wanted as broad a mix of women artists as possible – of different ages, at different stages of their career and from different ethnic mix and religions - to represent the diversity of Malaysia," says Sunitha.

The final selection of artists and their different mediums have produced an exciting collection of artworks that captures the multiplicity of Malaysian women - from Yee I-Lan's photo play on power Picturing Power to Aisyah Baharuddin's mixed-media installation It's Not Easy To Learn To Deal With Freedom.

Of course, women's issues in Malaysia are never free from cultural sensitivities. How do the curators deal with this?

"True, some of the issues are taboo and there is a lot of censorship on the female form but the artists are conscious of that and take it into account when expressing themselves.

"It is all about how you negotiate society's expectations of what is right and wrong, which is linked directly to the issues we are exploring here," says Sharmin.

Ultimately, it is about the context.

"We hope people can understand the context of the works and what the artists are trying to say about the issue before getting unnecessarily offended," she adds, stressing that the beauty of art is to trigger thought and challenge people to see things and life in different ways.

So, what is "a good woman" for the women behind "The Good Malaysian Woman"?

Sunitha believes she doesn't exist, "We are what we are."

For Sharmin, to each woman her own, "It should be what you are happy with. As clichéd as it sounds, you should define the 'good' yourself."

> "The Good Malaysian Woman: Ethnicity, Religion, Politics" exhibition is on from today to May 25 at Black Box, MAP Publika, in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the works will go to Awam.

Beauty in the beast

Posted: 17 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A young Filipino artist's animalistic paintings are both unsettling and mesmerising.

Bree Jonson is soft of speech and gentle in manner, with her milky complexion and waifish appearance making her look even younger than her 23 years. Listening to her muted sentences, puntuated by shy smiles, one gets the impression of a delicate animal, one that may just bolt if you get too close.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving; Jonson's serene facade conceals a mind that is enamoured with the ferocious side of life, which the Filipino artist depicts with brutal yet beautiful honesty in her first solo exhibition of paintings, Therion Mythos (presented by OUR ArtProjects), in Kuala Lumpur.

Revolving around both domestic and wild animals – "therion" means beast in Greek – the oil paintings are both unsettling and mesmerising. The style is realist, almost classical, with such a strong focus on minute details like pelts and antlers that the animals almost leap out of the canvas. Yet, there is a mythical, almost primal quality to each piece, as the beasts are depicted in the midst of attacking, devouring or destroying each other.

Some are almost true-to-life, such as Leucippus, a large painting in which a pack of dogs rip a doe apart as a buck battles against being strangled by a rearing snake. Others, meanwhile, are more fantastical, like Asphyxia, where a disembodied wolf's head is coiled tightly in what appear to be entrails, hovering over a country landscape; or Ophiuchus, in which a hissing snake slithers out of a gash in a severed horse's head.

Filipino artist Bree Jonson is exhibiting her works in Kuala Lumpur, in a show called

Bree Jonson

Jonson's fascination with and love for animals began at a very young age. She remembers, at around the age of four, of having intense dreams in which she became an animal herself. She shares that she was so affected by these dreams that she walked around on all fours and started eating without utensils!

"My mother did get a little worried at one point!" she laughs. "But she was a vet, so she understood my love for animals. She used to bring home animals, and that spurred on my passion too."

While always inclined towards art – she shares that she would sketch at every spare moment while growing up – Jonson studied engineering in university to please her parents. When she began her Masters, however, she took an art test, and went on to pursue that instead. While she didn't finish a formal art course, she did find a mentor, and trained in oils. And here, she found her passion for art and for animals gradually combining.

"I just started painting what I liked. I read a lot of philosophy, particularly about the idea of nothingness and how it affects our lives, and I decided I wanted to use my animals to explore those concepts. I also painted because I don't see any other paintings like these."

Filipino artist Bree Jonson's

Leucippus by Bree Jonson.

Animals, Jonson says, show her the truth about human nature. "I really see animals as fables, as a metaphor for humans. Even when I'm reading mythology or philosophy, I can always see them come to life in animals," she explains.

Therion Mythos is Jonson's way of depicting the realities of nature at its most primal, unvarnished and stripped of all niceties.

"In modern times, nature is always depicted as calm and beautiful. Animals are usually portrayed as cute, cuddly or majestic. But animals have another side, one in which they have to take care of their own needs. This isn't any different from humans; we all have a depth that we may not show. I do find animals beautiful, but with a tinge of rabidness, which isn't a bad thing. They need this to survive, and so do we," she says.

> "Therion Mythos" is on till May 25 at Lot 55, Art Row, Publika, Kuala Lumpur. Viewing hours are Tuesday to Sunday, noon-6pm. For more info, www.ourartprojects.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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