Many months before when the celebration was announced we were planning a European road trip, which had been discussed for a few years, but after breaking my ankle last summer (less than a week after returning from the Giger exhibition in Nantes) all holiday plans were on hold until I had recovered. Almost immediately the road trip's dates were set and the entire journey was quickly built around the celebration.
True to my militaristic planning, I had thought it prudent to arrive in Gruyeres the day before the celebration, firstly to secure a parking place (as I anticipated the village would be extra busy due to the celebration), and also to enjoy the calm before the storm as it were. This turned out to be stellar planning, as it gave us an extra evening in the Giger bar and the chance to meet with my old friend and fellow Giger collector Dave Julian, who kindly invited me to his home 10 years ago as a wide eyed 17 year old desperate to see some Giger work up close. Also to finally meet Les Barany, Giger's agent who was essential in setting up my meeting with Dave, and who gave me important and unforgettable advice 11 years ago when I needed it most, something I have never forgotten. A man of great kindness indeed. And to meet Tom Fischer - an integral part of Giger's life and world, co-director of the museum, kind supporter of my artwork, all round nice guy, along with his super girlfriend Michelle whose passion and enthusiasm is truly infectious!
Having shared a few beers with friends old and new, and after a sleepless night listening to the fountain in the square gurgle away I embraced, as fresh faced as possible, what I knew would be a glorious day I would never forget.
The day began at a steady pace with a nice quiet lull in the museum and I took the opportunity to see every piece on display before things got busy, as I predicted they would. One added bonus was the wonderful surprise that we could take photos for one day only. As you might imagine, I was unstoppable. To be back beside such true masterpieces with more depth and detail than most will ever know, was a privilege and an honour. The atmosphere throughout the museum was one of quiet excitement. Everyone I passed had a friendly word to say or seemed cocooned in anticipation, and rightly so.
In the garden the happy, relaxed vibe was endless, with cocktails, beer and wine flowing freely and many a sausage put away. In a marquee in the corner, a human canvas was being prepared for many intensive hours of body painting, the result of which was beyond stunning. I confess that more than once, it crossed my mind that I could never stand statue still for 7 hours in less than a thong to undergo such a transformation, and great kudos to the model Elisa and artists Fiorella Scatena and Udo Schurr for their incredible determination and skill.
Carmen Giger welcomed us all to the museum and the day's celebrations, followed by talks by Bijan Aalam and Andreas Hirsch who talked about their experiences and friendship with Giger and reflected on his life. The attic room was then filled with performances of modern dance and music throughout the day, surrounded by Giger's beautiful personal collection of art.
The entire day was a haze of great conversation, building friendships with some fantastic people, and with a few little surprises thrown in. The celebration was, in my opinion, a resounding success paying homage to our hero with a touch of absinthe, surrounded by the most magnificent art of our age, all in a stunning medieval village. Could you really ask for more? I doubt it.
As the day drew to a close, we were treated to the magnificent spectacle of seeing Fiorella and Udo's body painting creation come to life as a stunning biomechanoid queen wielding a facehugger staff, and coaxing a great chained Xenomorph towards a captivated crowd of adoring fans. Not something you see every day and not something any of us present are likely to forget any time soon!
A most fitting end to my time in Gruyeres and this leg of the trip was to make the pilgrimage to see Hans Ruedi's grave, and the beautiful tomb which has been added since I was last in Gruyeres. The polished black stone looks mysterious, with its glistening flecks of silver and striking matte Giger design it is appropriately alien and striking in the quiet, quaint Swiss graveyard. A fitting monument to a man utterly unique in this world.
Many thanks to all the amazing people I shared this day with and helped make it an utterly precious, incredible celebration, especially; Kev, Dave Julian, Les Barany, Carmen Giger, Tom Fischer, Michelle, Carlos Arenas, Kerry and Roger all the way from Australia to name but a few. I think it speaks volumes about how respected, loved and adored Giger and his work are that so many people travelled from every corner of the globe to mark this occasion and pay homage to the artist of our age, my hero; Hans Ruedi Giger.
Author and Photographer: Alice Durose