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Unica Zürn (1916 - 1970)

Lifespan: 1916 - 1970

Related: suicide - surrealism - German art - German literature

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Companion: Hans Bellmer

Photo sourced here.

Dark Spring (1967) - Unica Zürn
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Preadolescent sexuality merges with depressive fantasy--to devastating (if ineffably morbid) effect in this once-notorious novel by a German writer and artist (1916–70) who, like this novel's young protagonist, took her own life shortly after its (1967) publication. She's a nameless suburban girl who's provoked, by her slovenly mother's indifference, her beloved father's long absences from home, and her own claustrophobic self-absorption, into masturbatory daydreams and tentative baby steps toward adult sexual expression. The story's (expertly caught) tone and rhythm are indeed hypnotic (though one nowhere senses the complexity attributed to it by translator Rupprecht's labored introduction), and Zürn caps it with a marvelously bleak, brisk final scene. Unusual and memorable fiction. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


Unica Zürn, German author and painter born in Berlin-Grunewald July 6, 1916 and died in Paris in 1970.

In 1953 she meets surrealist painter Hans Bellmer in Berlin. She would be come his partner and model until her death by suicide in 1970.

Together with Hans Bellmer, Unica Zürn frequented surrealist circles and befriended people like Man Ray, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Henri Michaux, Max Ernst and Georges Bataille. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unica_Z%C3%BCrn [Aug 2005]

Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn

Hans Bellmer seems to have fed on Unica Zürn's illness:

"One can see me as the type of man with antennae that can pick up a potential woman-victim ... It remains to be seen if I immediately, from the first time we met, "sensed" that Unica was a victim. If Unica seriously asked herself this question, which she may have done, she would, I think, reply YES!"

--Hans Bellmer in a letter to Dr Ferdière, a psychiatrist, in 1964.

Text sourced via Surrealism: Desire Unbound (2001)[*]. This book examines the relationship of surrealism with the concept of desire.

Bellmer's letter reminds me of the 1999 film Girl on the Bridge by Patrice Leconte in which, at the beginning of the film, the character played by Vanessa Paradis is about to throw herself off a bridge when she is asked by Daniel Auteuil: "Why are you doing this?" Vanessa's character answers: "Because I am desperate" and than retorts: "What are you doing here?". Auteuil answers: "I am looking for desperate women."

1953: meets Hans Bellmer

In 1953, Bellmer met Unica Zurn while visiting his mother in Berlin, and like Mitrani before her, Unica became Bellmer's sometime model. The bondage photographs that resulted are of a different order. It is Zurn's naked torso or legs bound tightly with string, transforming her body into a series of folds and bulging mounds of flesh. In one image, she reclines on a plaid blanket seen from behind without head or limbs, reduced to a pale lump of trussed meat, with necrophiliac overtones and the caption, "Keep in a Cool Place." -- Valery Oisteanu, http://nyartsmagazine.com/72/duchamp.htm [Mar 2004]

1970: throws herself from the sixth floor window

In 1970, Unica Zürn, the companion and lover of the Surrealist artist Hans Bellmer, threw herself from the sixth floor window of their apartment in Paris. Her suicide was the culmination of thirteen years of mental crises which are described with disarming lucidity in The Man Of Jasmine, subtitled Impressions from a Mental Illness. --http://www.atlaspress.co.uk/index.cgi?action=view_backlist&number=16

Dark Spring (1967) - Unica Zürn

Dark Spring (1967) - Unica Zürn
[FR] [DE] [UK]

"For who could bear love without dying from it?"

Dark Spring is an autobiographical coming-of-age novel that reads more like an exorcism than a memoir. In it author Unica Zürn traces the roots to her obsessions: the exotic father she idealized, the "impure" mother she detested, the masochistic fantasies and onanistic rituals which she said described "the erotic life of a little girl based on my own childhood." Dark Spring is the story of a young girl's simultaneous introduction to sexuality and mental illness, revealing a different aspect of the "mad love" so romanticized by the (predominantly male) Surrealists.

Unica Zürn (1916-1970) emigrated in 1953 from her native Berlin to Paris, in order to live with the artist Hans Bellmer. There she exhibited drawings as a member of the Surrealist group, and collaborated with Bellmer on a series of notorious photographs, of her nude torso bound with string. In 1957, a fateful encounter with the poet and painter Henri Michaux led to the first of what would become a series of mental crises, some of which she documented in her writings. She committed suicide in 1970 — an act foretold in this, her last completed work.

Compared to Araki

This violation of taboo can probably be traced to the work of the Surrealist artist Hans Bellmer, who did a series of pictures featuring proudly presented labia with his girlfriend, the writer Unica Zürn, in 1958. Strangely enough, Bellmer and Zürn produced another motif that reappears in Araki’s work, although in considerably more artistic form: the female body in bondage. Bellmer’s photos are not portraits but rather studies of bodies bound randomly with packaging tape, from which uncovered areas of flesh bulge as tortured matter – “long folds and impure lips, notched,” as Bellmer noted, “previously unseen breasts multiplied, in unspeakable places.” Whereas Bellmer fragments the body to create a wild proliferation of flesh, Araki judges his subject on the basis of its exceptional role. Bellmer shows no faces; Araki always reveals complete figures in bondage and emphasizes above all the undisturbed contentment in the faces of a variety of very different women. In many of his bondage scenes, the vulva, if it is shown at all, is adorned with a flower, an obvious juxtaposition of lust and ritual. --http://www.designautopsy.com/araki/article4.html

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