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Issue 224

H.R. Giger and Mire Lee’s Biomechanical Netherworld

At Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, the two artists find common ground in sculptures, drawings, paintings and prints that evoke the unknown

BY Mitch Speed in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 07 OCT 21

‘Have you seen Schinkel Pavillon’s H.R. Giger show?’ has been the question of the month in Berlin. In fact, the exhibition pairs the late Swiss artist with the South Korean sculptor Mire Lee, a detail that has mostly footnoted ensuing conversations. Although it’s hardly a surprise. An obvious novelty factor accompanies this appearance of Giger’s sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints which – due to their creator’s work on the Alien film franchise (1979–2017) – fundamentally impacted society’s collective imagination of the far-flung other. But interesting questions also arise from this hagiographic netherworld. Namely, whether the show participates in a meaningful conversation – about our erotic and paranoid relationship to the unknown, say – or just satisfies current nostalgic tastes, if not contemporary art’s populist drift.

H.R. Giger, Necroconom (Alien II), 1990, installation view, Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin. All images courtesy: the artists and Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; photographs: Frank Sperling

With her best work having as much guts as Giger’s aliens, many of Lee’s sculptures are abject biomechanical masses, made from concrete, silicon and steel, and sometimes veined with ooze-pumping tubes. From beyond the grave, Giger has contributed Necroconom (Alien II) (1990) – a life-size sculpture of the infamous alien Xenomorph, who crawled on knees and fore-talons, as much like a purring pole dancer as a menacing hunter, its exoskeleton made from sexy black polyester. Giger’s Harkonnen Environment (1981), another large black polyester sculpture, simulates a banqueting table festooned with gothic skeletal appendages, resembling a set-piece from every medieval fantasy movie you’ve ever seen. Atop Giger’s table sits Lee’s Endless House: Large Egg (2021), a massive, misshapen, cracked-open, petrified egg. The combination of these pieces conjures an alien family sitting down to brunch. Will that be sunny side up, or soft-boiled in acidic salvia?

'HR Giger and Mire Lee', 2021, exhibition view, Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin

More affecting in its provocation of bodily and existential tremors is Lee’s Untitled (2021), a small conflagration of metallic and silicon cables, bound to a motor, which churns slowly in a spot-lit pool of its own broken refuse, on the floor of an eerie basement room, dark and tiled like an abandoned shower. Simultaneously invoking a disembodied machine component or body part, the piece harks back to classic existential concerns: the feeling of crawling through life, forever breaking apart, suspended between humanity and technology, and wondering why we even bother. Less effective were a number of Lee’s larger works, which gestured towards sensational corporeal impact, without quite delivering: The Liars (2021), a foreboding hanging mass made from towels, chains, fabric and silicon, suggested a horrific meat locker, without being all that horrific, while its companion piece, Carriers: Offsprings (2021), finds slime pulsing through masses of hanging tangled transparent tubes, like entrails simulated in a theme-park haunted house.

Mire Lee, The Liars, 2021, installation view, Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin

Along with Lee’s Untitled, Giger’s paintings and drawings steal the show. Variously made with airbrushed acrylic, India ink on paper or oil on wood, the paintings depict not only the prototypical alien of the film franchise – as in the airbrushed black and white Necronom IV (1976) – but also Giger’s broader, darkly tinted and sparsely coloured erotic-cyborgian imagination. In two supple oil paintings, fleshy-pink beings are compressed within ambiguous gothic industrial structures, their titles – Homage to S. Beckett II and II (both 1968) – announcing Giger’s affinity with canonical 20th-century artistic conversations about life’s absurdity. To plumb kinkier fantasies, Giger used ink and pencil on paper. A gridded print of drawings titled 700 Jahre Warten (700 Years of Waiting, 1991), for instance, depicts raunchy alien sadomasochism, with marginal notes making cryptic mention of De Sade. Combining schematic descriptions with strangely poetic flourishes, a suite of Giger’s preparatory drawings makes a charming and incongruous anchor to an otherwise otherworldly show.

'HR Giger and Mire Lee' is on view at Schinkel Pavillon until 2 January 2022.

Main image: Mire Lee, Carriers: offsprings (detail), 2021. Courtesy: the artists and Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; photograh: Frank Sperling

Mitch Speed is a writer based in Berlin, Germany.