Unica Zürn / The Drawing Center
[…] of Zürn’s first projective test is significant as it predates almost the entirety of her body of work in drawing—that is, it was administered before her early Klee-influenced paintings and her encounter with Bellmer and Surrealism in 1953. In sharp contradistinction, the second test, administered in 1960, reflects the pictorial language of an automatist character that had already been developed over seven years of artistic production, making its content impossible to read solely as pathological. The variance between the two tests is indeed startling: from unremarkable and child-like illustration in 1951, to the errant linearity and motifs—chimerical beasts, disembodied eyes, janus-faced portraits—now so associated with her drawings.
The Wartegg-Zeichen test in fact perfectly encapsulates the problematic place of the aesthetic production of mental illness, in which there is marked interest in psychiatric discourse in the early twentieth century. Mostly comprised of writing and drawing, often blurred in their orthographic character, this production of artifacts that are read as symptoms was defined by the presence of obsessive patterning, ornamentation, and hallucinatory motifs. In these qualities, Zürn’s drawings, many done in notebooks brought to her by Michaux [PLS. 51. 52), do bear similarities to the work of the mentally ill, but these were also the qualities mined by modernist art from Jean Dubuffet to Max Ernst and Michaux himself—as aspects of a ‘pure’ or primitivist creative impulse. Michaux’s own flirtation with ‘madness’ is evident in his calligraphic notations—somewhere between writing and drawing—executed while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline.
If as Foucault suggested, the mad are denied their own voice, Surrealist automatism produces a metaphorical one for them.
Through such a process, Zürn’s drawing made use of a repertoire of Surrealist techniques, including “entoptic graphomania,” in which dots are made on a sheet of paper and then connected by lines. This process bears a remarkable similarity to the premise of the Warrtegg test, in which the content is partially determined by preexisting graphic elements. Zürn seems to have employed a similar technique to entoptic graphomania in a number of late drawings whose loose, linear skeins recall the early automatic drawings of Masson, and which do not contain any directly representational imagery.
Unica Zürn, Dark Spring by The Drawing Center
// Now i know that i know absolutely nothing of the life of Unica Zürn (nor of Hans Bellmer’s).