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Premodern, Modern and Postmodern art forms

Various styles of art change and mould to fit the times, as do their artists. It then follows that a number of eras are identifiable in history with the previous style or form of art usually being a catalyst for the next. The art often reflects not only the time in which it was created, but also the influence of the great thinkers of that time. The Premodern The premodern philosophy in relation to art can then be divided into two separate and distinct areas, namely the Hellenistic and the Medieval.

The latter saw art as a mimetic actively or a second-hand reflection of the original source of meaning; that which is above man. In the biblical sense, this would refer to Yahweh or God (Kearney, 1994:115). This was followed by the belief that the imagination (and therefore that which came from the imagination) was a mere counterfeit of the original being (Kearney, 1994:117). As art could never be perfect and was always an interpretation of the imagination, the iconography (representational paintings) of Christ and the Saints had to therefore follow strict rules in order to show no emotion.

This was no ensure that the icon which was being represented was being worshiped and never the painting itself. In the Hellenistic imagination, although man can be seem as an original creator of physical art pieces, the artists can never escape the feeling that it is an imitation of the act of their divine creators. Plato denounces art as inferior copies of their originals (Kearney, 1994:89) and further condemns artists, claiming that they commit the crime of daring to “make the invisible source of truth visible in the form of representational images”(Kearney, 1994:95).

He claims that the imagination is idolatrous to the extent that it worships its own imitations instead of the divine original (Kearney, 1994:95). Though a paradox does appear when Plato says that certain “thought-images” are allowed if their purpose is to further human understanding or in an attempt to share or gain knowledge. The Modern The modern view was a complete reversal to the old and saw the imagination as the only source of true knowledge. Konigsberg stated that he imagination was the root to both understanding and sensation (Kearney, 1994:157).

Kant too believed that imagination, and therefore that which is created out of imagination (like art), ceases to be a copy of a copy of a copy, but instead becomes the ultimate original. Modern artists believed in the beauty of the object as its original self, the sense of freedom that the imagination enjoys while beholding it. This implies that the goal of art is in fact the artistic experience itself. (Kearney, 1994:172) The art can then be seen as an original “second nature” and not an imitation of the “first”. It is a new creation simply transforming the appearances of the previous creations (Kearney, 1994:173).

The Postmodern The Postmodern interpretation then returns to the belief that all art is simply a copy of a copy and so forth, with one main difference from the premodern beliefs. Postmodernists believe that there is no original or divine source from whence all of the others are based upon, and that all art pieces are merely a collection of mirrors, reflecting and projecting each others images. Postmodern artists often use common images and ideas and incorporate them into their work, furthering this idea. Postmodern art is often consumer related, monotonous or simplistic in design.

Although my initial plan was to discuss H. R. Giger’s “The Birth Machine” as a modern and not a Postmodern piece of art, my decision was swayed after a re-analysis of the piece as well as the various reproductions of the original. The Artist, Hans Rudi Giger and “The Birth Machine” HR GIGER The Swiss surrealist, Hans Rudi Giger is one of the few artists worldwide who does not and doesn’t to sign his works of art. He is considered the modern day master of the macabre and his works are recognisable at first glance. The motifs of birth, death and sex are the predominant subjects of Giger’s art.

From the beginning of his career, powerful elements, seemingly inspired by repressed memories of a traumatic birth, appeared from his talented hand. He willingly acknowledges that themes of birth trauma appear in his works. By 1966 he had begun producing a series of ‘shaft’ pictures which had their primary origins in dreams. Bottomless shafts, undoubtedly representative of the birth canal, surrounded by a series of steep banister-less stairways the embodying fear and danger predominated these pictures. Other works produced at that time had birth allusions, and included underground cities as well as buried bio-mechanoids.

These humanoid beings combined features of humans with mechanical equipment. Continuing the birth trauma passage theme in his art, Giger later became engrossed with ‘passages. ‘ These pictures were the result of a series of dreams. He writes, “in these I usually found myself in a large white room without doors or windows, the only exit a dark, iron opening barred by an iron hoop halfway along. Moreover, in passing through this opening, I regularly got stuck. “(Giger, 1980) He found himself stuck in the tube-like structure with his arms pressed to his sides and being unable to go back from whence he had come or move forward.

Many of Giger’s works combine the elements of ritualised torture with sexuality. All of Giger’s women, including birthing mothers, seem to be cold and detached, although having classically beautiful faces. Appearing physically fit, they are all extremely thin and long limbed, in a section of Necronomicon written by Dr. Fritz Billeter, there appears a description of these mothers: “Their genitals appear separated, transformed and then almost devouring . . . they suffer a tortuous relationship with the machinery to which they are connected. They stand, sit and crouch in motionless positions.

They expose themselves or are exposed – ‘as in a sex manual,’ the artist commented once . . . The combination of torture and eroticism, which is repeatedly found in Christianity, is represented in the faces of Giger’s women. Their eyes look as if they are closed with painful ecstasy . . . The faces facial expressions take on features of tortured, orgiastic lust. “(Giger, 1980) Giger was also greatly inspired by the works of the famous psychologist, Freud. Giger would analyse himself according to Freud’s methods and would even document his own dreams for research purposes.

He was fascinated with Freud’s theories, such as the Oedipus complex and birth theories, and used his knew found knowledge in his artworks. THE BIRTH MACHINE As one of his earlier and probably most famous works, we can easily see that the 1967 “The Birth Machine” also relates to Giger’s seemingly demented fascination with the process of birth. The very name itself separates the very human process of birth and likens it with a machine, making the process seems extremely impersonal. Furthermore, the machine used in this work of art is in fact a weapon, a taker rather than a giver of life.

The painting, in this context, can be seen as birth paralleling with pain and suffering. The chamber of birth here is already loaded with one child while replicas, equal amounts of pain, are waiting to take the place of the previous one. He sees birth as a production of function of a human, something actually biomechanical in nature, like a human production line Its dark and sombre colour scheme echo’s the feel of the piece, being something dark and sombre, metallic and mechanical, with even the babies seemingly inorganic clones of one another.

The cross section is meant to show us the “inner workings”, that which is generally invisible to human vision. The pistol is also cocked and loaded, ready and waiting for someone to pull the trigger Giger himself described the meaning behind the painting. It is his belief that the overpopulation of the world will eventually be mans downfall, implying that it will be the children of man who will be ultimately be responsible for the death of man, but it is man who places the children in the chamber of the gun in the first place.

The “Birth Machine Babies” or “Bullet Babies” as they have aptly become known, bear a striking resemblance to the figures accompanying Giger’s Poem “Der Atom Kinder”, one of his first art pieces. The “Birth Machine Babies” Wear goggles similar to those of either WW1/2 fighter pilots or old nuclear test conductors. This, along with the fact that they carry some sort of weapon suggests their dangerous nature. They are bullets, with their destructive nature encased inside the shell of the weapon. Their baldheads and undernourished appearances subtly suggest a futuristic outlook on impoverished children, warning of impending overpopulation.

These Babies have become a symbol of Giger’s beliefs and a large statue can be found in New York City. Throughout the ages, in art, especially in surrealistic paintings, there have been allusions to the themes of the torment of birth, rapture of sexuality and the hopelessness and despair of death. However, in the work of H. R. Giger, the artistic depictions of the physical and emotional sufferings endured by the foetus during the trauma of birth, has reached its summit in both real and symbolic expression.

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