Sunday 24 December 2017

An incredible book for an incredible man ...

Ordinarily when I sit down to thumb through a book or do a spot of reading I sit with an endless stream of tea to lubricate me and piles of notes around me, sketches, scraps of paper and artworks ... everywhere. I rarely allow myself the time to read for pleasure these days, criminal, but there's always research to me done and knowledge needed to move a piece forward or dream up my next mad venture. So when I decided it was finally time to write a blog on the most mammoth (and valuable) book I'm ever likely to own, it was a much more serious affair. On with the white cotton gloves, not a drop of tea or a cheeky biscuit in sight and the only place large enough to house this huge tome, the bed, prepared as I hover over the book, shoulders stooped like a hunchback.

I am talking about a book I was gifted 364 days earlier, Taschens utterly mammoth Limited edition book 'HR Giger'. I say mammoth, Taschen refer to the format as 'Baby Sumo' and at 36x50cm in size, 400 pages and a weight so great I can only just lift it, the book is vast and more than lives up to its title. Released as a limited edition of 1200 copies, the book is a comprehensive look at Giger's career and artworks spanning from 1961 until his death in 2014, when the book was still being worked upon. The book takes you on a journey chronologically through Gigers work, a useful style of layout as you can easily see the flow of Gigers artwork and how his themes and techniques grew and developed over the decades.

Beginning with abstract ink pieces and conceptual pieces such as birth machine the book shows different phases in Gigers career and some themes which would eventually become recurring. The Passagen and Bathroom series demonstrate Gigers amazing ability to represent the same thing in infinite different ways. As time moves on strange organic landscapes grow, and give way to biomechanical nightmares which Giger became so famed for. As the style is honed countless masterpieces stare out at you along the way, pieces from the Spell series, Li, Biomechanoids and eventually Necronom pieces, signaling the arrival of what became later known as (and developed into) the Alien monster which became synonymous with the name Giger. After this time I always felt Giger's work became darker, more mysterious and (if possible) more erotic, something reflected in the Erotomechanics and Victory works. Giger's 2D work continued in his signature style, creating countless nightmarish biomechanical landscapes and the New York City series, until he turned his attention to other ventures including the museum, sculpture, bars, furniture and even a fountain.

Looking through the book in detail sparked memories the images hold for me. Visits to the Giger Museum and different exhibitions, certain details that struck me and things I remember so vividly; the lace pattern of the snakes scales in Spell IV, the haunting eyes of an exotic and surreal woman, the curtained curiosity of the X-Rated Red Room and the overpowering intense Victory images. But also my time studying Gigers work as a young student, looking at his different types of biomechanical landscapes, discovering more and more of his artwork and I couldn't help but smile seeing Japanese Excursion again for the first time in what felt like years (and may well have been).
For me the book is like a miniature Giger Exhibition in my home. There to take me back to seeing some of the pieces that have fascinated me for so long and indulge in my love of all things Giger in the largest possible format outside of the Museum or Exhibitions.

The wealth of artworks in the book largely speak for themselves, with choice quotes thrown in here and there, essays and short chapters peppered throughout to narrate the scenes, the main impact is made, as it should be, by Gigers artwork. The huge landscapes, unfolding and growing to create a detailed, up close look at some of the most magnificent masterpieces I've ever seen. A beautiful print quality allows you to properly see the layering and texture so often lost in books and prints of Gigers work. There's so much to take in visually I'm sure you could sit with the book for weeks and still see a face peering out you've never noticed before or some critter, a rat or snake, so subtle it almost passed you by. The book ultimately allows you to submerge yourself in Giger's incredible world, without even leaving your own home. It isn't even a case of allowing yourself to become engrossed in the imagery and its mysterious landscape and characters, it just happens ...

As a self confessed book obsessive and hoarder this book is the absolute pinnacle of my collection. Its beauty, quality and the consideration behind it is utterly unsurpassed by any other book I own. As a Giger fan and collector I own many books in many languages, but this is undoubtedly the ultimate. For anyone with a passion for Giger this book is a fitting tribute to the late great master. It is a glorious display of some of the finest artworks of his career, on a scale which they can be truly appreciated. I only wish that Giger had lived to see this incredible book come to fruition ...

Friday 8 December 2017

Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum was one place I had wanted to visit for a very long time. I first learned of it's existence at Sixth Form, through my textiles teacher who extolled its virtues and encouraged us to visit. Since then 10 years have passed and lecturers and all sorts of learned people have repeatedly told me how wonderful this little gem is and how I must make it a priority to go. Over the years for one reason or another I've never managed to make it. But suddenly fate was on my side and finally the opportunity has arisen to pay Pitt Rivers a visit ...

Instantly I regretted leaving it so long to visit the Museum. The entrance through the Natural history Museum was impressive and reminiscent of a miniature version of the Natural History Museum in London, with suspended skeletons gracefully floating along against a backdrop of beautiful Victorian Architecture.
Instantly the atmosphere changed as you pass the threshold from the Natural History Museum to Pitt Rivers. The lofty glass roof was replaced with wood and a deep darkness and gloomy mood descended, like wandering into an ancient cave no one had ventured into for years, with just a few lights twinkling like stars to welcome you.

The atmosphere of Pitt Rivers eerily echoed it's many exhibits, adding to the strange sense of being in unknown territory. The exhibits on display are grouped according to their use; the first floor consisting of 'Magic, Masks and Music' the second 'Tattoos, Tools and Toys' and the third 'Shields, Spears and Samurai', and honestly, anything in between. At first the vastness of objects and the space before you is quite overwhelming, but as the museums map advises, your main guide through the maze of cabinets and artifacts is your own curiosity, so it was no surprise I first found myself staring and dozens of Noh masks (as someone who studied Japanese Culture and Arts for many years) and then immediately all sorts of mysterious Witchcraft artifacts ...

The wealth of items on display relating to Witchcraft was truly staggering. Strange bottles with labels of spells and potions, amulets for a whole wealth of uses, Animal skulls, Teeth, pieces of jaw bone, effigies, ex voto, strange charms, hearts with nails hammered into them, alien artifacts from Africa which echo of a different culture. Some of the items were familiar, from British Folklore and ancient culture, like a Witches Ladder hanging ethereally, and the widespread image of the Evil Eye adorning amulets from many cultures, or bottles, jars and skulls, all of which are familiar, recognisable objects, even if the intent and purpose behind them is unknown. Yet many items were entirely alien. Strange pieces of wood or straw doing unknown things, feathers forming headdresses for some unknown ritual, shells and beads intricately decorating some unidentifiable item. There is a real sense of mystery to many of the artifacts on display, which is so tantalizing, and hints at how little we really know our world or understand its deepest, best kept secrets.

Another area I found myself pulled towards within the sea of model boats and strange looking instruments were the cabinets labelled 'Treatment of the Dead' and 'Treatment of Dead Enemies'. Inside these is a treasure trove of bizarre and often gruesome death rituals. Some such as mummification and shrunken heads most people will be familiar with, but most strayed into that mysterious unknown once more, skulls with bound eyes, feathers, graphic mutilation and violence, painted, burned, adorned with strange objects such as wood or bone and even gem stones. These incredible remains reflect customs and traditions which are so different to those practiced by most today its almost like a glimpse into a secret history. The lives and cultures of the tribes who created these artifacts is almost unimaginable, and for the most part, lost forever to modernization, yet these artifacts give a brief and fleeting insight into a lost world.

During my short time at the museum (how much can you soak up in 2 and a half hours in a building of 22,000 items?) I repeatedly wondered about the people who created these incredible objects. Their tribe, their life, the reason for the items creation, the place these objects had in their daily life, and most importantly; is their way of life lost forever? Does their tribe or culture still exist? Does anybody living know any of their secrets anymore? The wonders on display are countless, and say so much about our past, but also about human nature. With the many textiles, adornments, and physical modifications expressing the deeply ingrained desire to be individual and different, yet associate with our own 'tribe' and express ourselves in a personal yet uniform way, something which I'm sure has existed since man first walked on two feet and has personally fascinated me for many years. Many other things which can be seen reflected in the objects is the development and use of rudimentary currency, the evolution of weaponry and armour, the human desire and need for entertainment and pastimes, the insatiable desire for possessions and wealth and the incredible resilience of those without the technology to create something state of the art, still creating something fit for purpose, by whatever means necessary.

For me, what the Pitt Rivers Museum really reflects is the incredible diversity of human culture. The staggering number of objects on display is quite honestly, mind-boggling. Especially when one stops to consider its place in just one culture in one part of the world. I can only imagine what the Victorians would have made of these utterly alien artifacts. Even in a modern world of globalization, instantly accessible knowledge and learning and with unmatched information on ancient cultures and history, I still find something a little bit magical and mysterious about it all. And for me that really is a warming thought. That in a world of total connection, limitless information and a global community, there are still some ancient secrets in the world and some mysteries waiting to be discovered, and some, I hope, that will maintain their mystique and untold magic, forever.

Pitt Rivers amazing collection of anthropological artifacts is a beautiful, refreshing sigh to behold. If you're thinking of giving them a visit, or want to know more, check out