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Illegal alien faces eviction from castle wall

The alien lurks above the entrance to the Giger museum in Gruyères (SF DRS)

A sculpture of an alien by famous Swiss artist HR Giger has fallen foul of city by-laws in the tourist town of Gruyères.

The authorities have told Giger to take the work of art off the wall outside his museum or face the consequences.

The artist opened his museum in Gruyères in the French-speaking part of Switzerland over seven years ago.

Since then, Giger's strange and surrealistic work has been on display, including his famous Oscar-winning space monsters, originally created for the film Alien.

In August he decided to put one outside on the museum wall as a way of attracting more visitors inside.

Large numbers of tourists stop off in the hillside town every year, but only few of them make the climb to the very top, where the museum and the castle lie.

Not enough

Around 40,000 people visit the museum annually, but this is not enough for the usually reclusive Giger, who also wants to find sponsorship to renovate the roof of his 400-year-old building.

"I need this type of sculpture to be outside so visitors will stop and look and then maybe come into the museum," he told Swiss television.

There have been no complaints about the presence of the striking alien, according to Ingrid Lehner, the museum's administrative director.

"There has been no negative feedback," she told swissinfo. "It's probably the most photographed object in the city, and the council admits it is a good idea."

This was not the case a few years ago when Giger opened shop in Gruyères.

At the time, a space monster lurking over an archway reportedly gave some of the residents from the retirement home next door nightmares. The sculpture was removed shortly afterwards.

Marching orders

This time, the town is giving the alien its marching orders. Local by-laws set out strict conditions about what is allowed and not allowed on all buildings given the multitude of shops and restaurants all vying for the tourist business.

Gruyère's mayor Christian Bussard says that all the shopkeepers might want to start hanging objects on outside walls, and this would ruin the town's appearance.

"Mr Giger was made aware of this when he was given the permit to renovate the museum building," he told swissinfo. "He knows the rules."

The town council has given the artist until the beginning of next week to take down his creation, after which it says it will take matters into its own hands.

"We would rather not have to intervene if we can avoid it," added Bussard. "We would rather find a compromise solution with Mr Giger."

A matter of taste

The mayor says the council is not harassing an internationally recognised artist and agrees that his work is of superior quality, if not to everyone's taste.

"We like him and want him to stay. It's just that sometimes you need to put him back on the right track."

Lehner says that the statue will definitely be coming down by the beginning of next week.

"We only planned for it be on display temporarily," she added. "We just have to find somebody to take it down and somewhere to put it in the museum."

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

Giger was born in Chur, canton Graubünden in February, 1940.
He studied architecture and industrial design at Zurich's School of Applied Arts.
He began work as an interior designer in 1966, before becoming a full-time artist and filmmaker in 1968.
In 1978 Giger began work on Ridley Scott's film Alien, sculpting most of the creatures and sets, earning him an Oscar two years later.
He opened his museum in Gruyères in 1998.

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