Double Bind: Bellmer, Zürn and the body as anagram

Online talk Mon 11 Oct 2021

To coincide with FIGURE/S: drawing after Bellmer, this online event will explore the practices of both Hans Bellmer (1902-75) and Unica Zürn (1916-70), through illustrated presentations and a conversation between art historians Michael Newman and Sarah Wilson.

Zürn’s prolific output as a writer and artist has only recently become the subject of exhibitions and scholarship; she was previously perhaps best known through her relationship with Bellmer, documented in numerous photographs of the two artists, sometimes juxtaposed with Bellmer’s Surreal dolls. Meeting in Berlin in 1953, the couple’s relationship was both generative and tumultuous, their years together interspersed with periods of mental crisis for Zürn, resulting in her hospitalisation and ultimate suicide in 1970. During their seventeen-year relationship, Bellmer encouraged Zürn’s creative output of drawings and anagrams, often in combination, together with her other writings. In 1958, Bellmer reconfigured her body in photographs in which wires incised lines into her naked skin, in a gender-distributed sadistic-masochistic scenario that turned her into both drawing and doll.

Illustrated presentations on Bellmer and Zürn, based on new essays published in the companion volume ON FIGURE/S: drawing after Bellmer, will be followed by a conversation that examines their different approaches to drawing, involving the relation of gaze and body, of human and non-human, and the pleasure of writing anagrams, while discussing both the productive and troubling aspects of their working relationship.

About the speakers:

Michael Newman (Professor of Art Writing, Goldsmiths, University of London) is an art historian and critic who has written extensively on contemporary art, and has a long-standing interest in drawing, with numerous publications, including ‘The Traces and Marks of Drawing' in The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act (Tate Publishing and The Drawing Center, 2003). He has been researching Bellmer for over six years and teaching his work in relation to contemporary art.

Sarah Wilson (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Courtauld, University of London) is an art historian and curator. Publications include Paris, Capital of the Arts,1900-1968 (Royal Academy, 2002, ed.); The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations. (2010, French 2018) and Picasso, Marx and socialist realism in France (2013). She has published on over thirty female artists, including  Françoise Gilot, Nadia Léger and Judit Reigl in 2021.