(1948 – 19 May 1975) Li was a Swiss stage actress. She is best known as model to several of H. R. Giger’s works (including his famous Li paintings), as well as for being his life partner up until her suicide in 1975.
Not much is known of Li Tobler’s early life. She was born in Switzerland in 1948. In 1966, she met surrealist artist H. R. Giger while she was studying acting in K. Rellstab’s drama studio in Zürich. According to Giger, she had “an enormous vitality and a great appetite for life” and wished her life to be “short and intense”. Tobler was living in a very small and unclean apartment with her then boyfriend, actor Paul Weibel, a friend of Giger. Giger, having only graduated from the School of Arts and working as a designer, made the proposal to move in with them, which they promptly accepted. Tobler, Giger and Weibel, in terrible economic condition, shared the apartment in the following months, despite its numerous inconveniences. After Weibel left abroad for professional reasons, the friendship between Tobler and Giger gradually developed into a romance.
The relationship of the couple was reportedly tumultuous, and involved promiscuity from both partners, as well as frequent use of drugs. On one occasion, Tobler failed to appear at the house and Giger, on the brink of terror, started frantically looking for her in highways. Eventually, he received a phone call by Tobler, three days later, who informed him that she had to make a trip of extreme urgency (probably with another boyfriend of hers, as remarked by Giger years later). According to the painter, “as of that moment she did, more or less, what she wanted”.
Depression and suicide: 1971-1975
In 1971, Giger and Tobler visited director Fredi M. Murer in London. Murer filmed a TV documentary, entitled Passagen (1972), about Giger’s work. The documentary also featured interviews by both Giger and Tobler. In the 1972-1973 season, Tobler gained a part in the play My woman, my leader, and had to travel all around Switzerland. Physically and mentally exhausted after 130 performances of the play, weary after the hectic schedule that required extensive tour around the country and confused by her promiscuous erotic life, Tobler decided to take a leave of absence from the acting profession, as well as from her relationship with Giger. In 1974, she opted for leaving him and moving to San Francisco with her new American boyfriend. However, 30 days later, she returned to Zürich, claiming to be disappointed over the United States and resuming her relationship with the painter.
Following this incident, Tobler started becoming heavily depressed. In sharp contrast to Giger, who was undergoing one of his most energetic artistic periods, Tobler was gradually dissolving in depression and apathy. Giger’s energy only seemed to depress her more. She started contemplating suicide. One of her friends, Jörg Stummer, advised her to open her own gallery, as a means of becoming active again. Her gallery presented several modern artists, including works by Manon, Walter Pfeiffer and Jürgen Klauke. At her last exhibition, entitled Schuhwerke (German for Shoe Works), the guests were invited to appear wearing bizarre shoe creations. Giger filmed the guests while wearing a pair of “shoes” hollowed out of fresh loaves of bread. Despite Tobler’s initial enthusiasm with her new project, after a short period of creative stir, she fell into a lethargic state and ended her life with a bullet at the age of 27, on Whit Monday 1975.
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