Unica Zürn: Art, Writing and Post-War Surrealism by Esra Plumer / ISBN 9781350296954 / 258-page paperback from Bloomsbury Visual Arts (UK)
Diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1950s, writer and artist Unica Zürn produced a wealth of remarkable textual and visual material while in psychiatric institutions across Germany and France. While Zürn is often discussed in relation to her partner, the controversial artist Hans Bellmer, this innovative book moves beyond the familiar model of the overlooked 'woman behind the man' and re-introduces her as a member of the French Surrealist group.
In the first text on Unica Zürn in English, Esra Plumer presents Zürn's life and work in light of the artist's individual experiences of the Second World War, post-war Surrealism and mental illness, at the same time revealing wider aspects of her artistic practice in relation to her contemporaries. Plumer also reveals how the techniques of anagrams and automatism (writing and drawing methods designed to unlock the subconscious mind) form the pillars of Zürn's artistic creative output, which carry her work into the wider theoretical circles of psychoanalytic theory and post-structuralist thought.
“The first significant and sustained English language study of the writer and artist that attempts to explicitly remove her from Bellmer's leaden shadow and show her as significant in her own right... The result of Plumer's careful and exhaustive scholarship is an image both of Zürn as an individual separate from the better known Bellmer, as well as her body of work as a distinct and unique contribution to postwar arts and literature. Plumer's book is itself a superb and groundbreaking contribution to scholarship on Zürn and postwar Surrealism generally. In particular, Plumer provides great insight and methodological clarity into how to examine the relationship between mental illness and artistic creation without reducing one to the other, an activity that has, unfortunately, been the standard approach for so long.” ―Journal of Modern Literature
“Esra Plumer's illuminating study swiftly escapes the claws of psychobiography. Instead, she opts for an informative account of Unica Zürn's oeuvre (both visual and textual) as an outcome of a conscious artistic strategy, at times infused by her mental illness, rather than a product of such illness per se. What emerges is a well-overdue portrait of an exceptional artist who was far more than just la femme de Bellmer, as demonstrated in Plumer's astute analysis of the complexities of artistic and personal collaboration.” ―Kamila Kuc, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in New Media, Goldsmiths, University of London
“Esra Plumer's comprehensive study of the literary and artistic works of Unica Zürn is highly informative. She presents Zürn as an autonomous artist and also reviews her early period in Berlin. One particular merit is that it at last enables the English-speaking world to share an insight into the surrealistic oeuvre of an exceptional German-French artist.” ―Dagmar Schmengler and Isabel Fischer, curators of the exhibition 'Unica Zürn – Camaro – Hans Bellmer in Berlin: Early works at Camaro Haus, Berlin' (2016)