Adelheid Mers


My work as an artist has revolved around diagramming texts since I began my formal education in 1980, initially generating spatial arrangements and installations, leading later into collaborative, editorial and curatorial activations. Those incorporated fliers, posters and vinyl diagram banners, and now printed, steel and enamel diagram whiteboards. This work comes to live through performative lectures, talk and response sessions. Works may be versioned and re-deployed. To me, diagrams are useful pictures, scores that are implicated in cycles of dialogue, able to generate play and other activity. Around 2005, I diagrammed arts organization structures, propelling me into a tenured professorship in Cultural Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and since 2008 I have spoken with artists about how they work, inspired by studio critique (which I've also theorized and brought into the MA program). I listen, note, draw and diagram those conversations, to then share them back with the artists. Since 2012 I have mostly worked with musicians and sound artists, who often react to their diagrams with original compositions and performances. My preferred exhibition opportunities are those that allow me to be on site and prompt audience interactions.

I believe that in part I fell into this mode of working because of exposure to new music as a youth, being particularly affected by forms of notation. The culminating experience was John Cage's 1979 MusiCircus in Bonn, Germany, when I brought along an easel and painted to the score. The rules were at the same time delightfully absurd, and very much needed to bring about organization, or meaning. Risible and dead-serious. This dichotomy marks an aesthetic and intellectual sweet spot I continue to pursue.


- with Jim Duignan, artist and educator.

- with James Falzone, musician and composer.

- with Katharina Klement, composer and performer.

Posted in the Research Catalogue - an international database for artistic research (links open in new page)

Catalog: Enter the Matrix - An Exhibition and Residency at the Chicago Cultural Center

The matrix of the title refers to the 3Line Matrix, a diagram template that appeared in my work during a sabbatical, in 2012. It supports non-hierarchical, diagonal, spatial thinking. This exhibition traced the artistic evolution and current uses of this matrix. It contained four sections:

  • a selection of images of older works that prefigured the matrix shape
  • diagrams based on conversations with artists and musicians, along with responses by several of those artists and musicians when presented with the diagrams; also, a blank matrix for use during the exhibition.
  • a Fractal 3Line Matrix commissioned by the 3Arts Foundation, about artists' perception of granting frameworks (also accessible in the Arts Ecologies Stream below)
  • 8 portraits from a collaboration with Robert Woodley (also accessible from the New Media Stream below), along with a matrix breaking down possible presentation modes for the project

All works in the exhibition were printed, vitreous enamel on steel.

The expansive residency space was used to facilitate conversations with groups and individuals, using prepared Whiteboards.

How Artists Work (Vienna) - in progress

Art modes of thinking, artists' epistemes, are at the center of my interest. Here I assembled excerpts from interview notes, drawings, scenarios, diagrams, matrices and animations, variously created based on conversations conducted with musicians, composers and sound artists about their work modes and processes, and their sound/video responses to the drawings. These files are contextualized through writings and additional artworks, by participants in and observers of the project. Interviews were conducted over the span of two years, facilitated by colleagues in Vienna.

Project Stream: Arts Ecologies

There have been 3 Arts Ecology projects to date. All were carried out with graduate students of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), in the Arts Administration and Policy Department that I currently chair. I believe that the recently conducted Chicago Cultural Plan (2012) has, opened a door for organizations to consider more formal inclusion of art inflected perspectives in community and urban planning processes. As an artist with a cultural policy context, I ask, observe, listen and hear differently from economics or sociology-based researchers. All Arts Ecology projects are located in or near Chicago: in Evanston, and in Chicago south and west side neighborhoods. They are based on interviews with stakeholders in bounded geographic areas. The project in Evanston culminated in an exhibition. The Chicago based projects generated posters for general distribution and feedback sessions with funders and stakeholders. Also included here is a diagram commissioned by the 3Arts Foundation, about artists' perception of granting frameworks.

Project Stream: Concepts of Time

Texts about space read over the span of many years in conjunction with my early sculpture and installation - based art practice inspired a set of drawings outlining concepts of time (completed in 2008 at a Banff Centre residency), presented with a prepared Whiteboard in performance lecture format (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.) One of the concepts, the Hairy Blob, was explored further by curating an exhibition of art works that related to it (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago.)


A fractal 3 Line Matrix of my work, including texts and image samples, best viewed on a touch screen to zoom in and out using gestures. 25 MB.  

Projects below are listed chronologically:

8. Arbeitstagung Fachverband Kulturmanagement, Kufstein, January 2014 - conference notes.

September 2013, Fractal 3Line Matrix - Granting for Arts Organizations and Individual Artists, seen from Artists' Perspectives.

More here

March 2013, The Artist as a Ceiling Fan, updated: The Artist as a 3-Line Matrix

Sounding Out Useful Pictures

Responses to Artist Interview diagrams, as part of Believe Half of What You See And None of What You Hear, a project conceived by Georgia Kotretsos, as part of  Sous nos yeux (part 1) curated by Abdellah Karroum at La Kunsthalle of Mulhouse, in collaboration with the University Haute-Alsace (SUAC) and Radio Campus Mulhouse.

July/August 2012, AIR Krems, Austria, with an August workshop at VBKÖ, Vienna. More interviews were conducted in Vienna in January 2013. Here are the first of the resulting Artist Interview diagrams


"Wissenskulturen im Dialog" , Vienna, January 2013, conference respondent. Here is the resulting Conference Matrix. It will be modified and expanded in response to conference participants' comments.

(Watch my 'featured research' conference presentation: 8:35 - 17:50)

Remaking Research, Vancouver, November 2012, full conference notes

The Happiness Project, 2011/12

Mutualisms, Chicago, September 2011

Proximity Magazine/Mutualisms Catalog Contribution (Janssen/Korsmit/Mers) Flipbook

D/RAFT Kodra, September 2011

Diagram Talks - Without you I'm nothing - Interactions, MCA Chicago, March 2011

Flexible Artworlds - Arts Organizations and Institutions ongoing/multiple versions

5. Arbeitstagung Fachverband Kulturmanagement, Basel, January 2011 conference notes

HUMAK Helsinki Symposium May 2010, Cultural Management and Pedagogy: Discourses and Practice. conference notes

Family Portrait, commissioned through NJAPF, 2010

Embedded Artist Project

Effervescent Condition, Chicago and  Xuzhou, China, 2010

The Studio 2009

The Quai Branly Guestbook, 2009

Ispace Organogram 2009

Art as Research

Museum Ethics Conference Notes, 2008

"Schneeberg Organigramm 2008"

Organogram of the Dept. of Applied Art of the Westsächsische Hochschule Zwickau, Saxony, Germany, based on a site visit and interviews with students and faculty, July, 2008

Drawings completed at the Banff Residency, 2008

residency description

"Peck School of the Arts Organogram 2008", INOVAINOVA INSTITUTE, Peck School of the Arts, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, March 28-May 18, 2008, Opening reception: Friday, March 28, 6-9 pm

Mapping the Chicago Resource Center for the "Re-Create" Benefit at Caro d'Offay Gallery, Chicago, Thursday, March 27, 2008

University of Central Florida: live mapping a virtual seminar with Katherine Hayles and Terry Harpold; mapping workshop with Craig Saper; Orlando, February 29, 2008

"Here There Everywhere", diagram of texts about creativity, Cultural Center, Chicago, January - April 08

Textaportation Diagram, interpretation of the textaportation project, Caro D'Offay Gallery, December 8, 2007

Show [Title to be Determined by Symbols Not Yet Rendered], diagram interpreting the 3 day collaborative event as a graphic observer, Roots & Culture, November 23 - 25, 2007

"Rockford Art Museum Organogram 2007"

Group show: "Fast Forward - SAIC in the 21st Century", at the Rockford Art Museum, October 19, 2007 - January 6, 2008

"Fertile Ground", 2007

A story telling game for Lakeview East, part of Art 44/46, October 13 - October 20, 2007

"KSAMEC", 2007

In May 2007, I diagrammed Kerry Schneider's Master's Thesis, in which she attempted among other things to develop a metaphor for arts administration based on her thinking about sound and on imagery of fluidity. Her colleague, Elzabeth Chodos, organized an exhibition as part of an Arts Administration Symposium at the Chicago non-profit gallery, ThreeWalls.

An Instruction Set: How to make or read a diagram, 2007

DIY, Columbia College Chicago, A & D Gallery

“Site-specific Diagram: tentative positioning of two artistic modes, ‘Activism’ and ‘Pedagogy’, mainly in the context of political, social and economic New Institutionalist thought”, 2006

For the exhibition "Negotiated Localities" at the SAIC's Betty Rymer Gallery, curated by Cindy Coleman and Claire Pentecost, a diagram was drawn in two sections, with oil based paint markers on clear vinyl.

Stories of Origins, 2006

Preparatory readings for the drawings above led to this series.

"LoBot Gallery Organogram 2006"

For the exhibition "New Cartographies" at the non-profit LoBot Gallery, Oakland, CA, I created an Organogram that showed how the 12 residents of the warehouse building that also houses the gallery intersect with that gallery and with art worlds.

Paper Frieze, 2006

Students of National Teachers Academy in Chicago posed for photographs that were used to trace silhouettes.

"Hyde Park Art Center Organogram 2006"

A map of the Hyde Park Art Center, on the occasion of the opening of its new building with the "Takeover" exhibition.

Reading Blankets, 2006

Drawings on blankets after maps of Kim Mitseff's property in Colorado that were prepared by Kim and her family.

Microtext Images after American Proverbs

"Currency", April 2005

World of Art

a game, commissioned by Mary Jane Jacob as part of a poster for a symposium, can be downloaded from Diagram 5.1, 2005

Images after Texts by George Lakoff

"Backgrounds and Conversations", October 2004, City of Chicago Open Studio project and "Looking at/Looking through", Des Moines, Iowa, Drake University, Anderson Gallery (flyer, conversation between A. Mers and P. McGee, pdf, 5.4.MB). Diagrams after "Moral Politics - how liberals and conservatives think" by Georges Lakoff

Images after Texts by Vilém Flusser

"HOME": diagrams after essays by Vilém Flusser, May 2003, Dorman+Torluemke, Hammond, IN also shown at the Flusser Archive in Cologne, at the INOUT festival in Prague, at Migrations at Legion Arts/CSPS, in Cedar Rapids, IA, and at Frühsorge Galerie, Berlin.

Operation: Human Intelligence, curated by Matthew Girson, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, May 2003 and at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

Images after quotes from the IPIP Personality Test

"I AM", 10 graphics commissioned by the Hammond Arts Commission, July 2002

Images after books by 6 authors: Lester Frank Ward, Charles Sanders Peirce, Martin Buber, Carol Gilligan, Ellen Dissanayake, Marshall McLuhan

digital paintings, acrylic on vinyl, in "nubo wave map (space) bubble", a group show curated by Barry Blinderman at at Illinois State University Galleries, January 2002

digital paintings, acrylic on vinyl, in "nubo wave map (space) bubble", a group show curated by Barry Blinderman at at Illinois State University Galleries, January 2002

installation of digital paintingsat "The Stray Show", "magazine", curated by Pedro Velez, Chicago, 2001

installation view with digital paintings, "Collaborative Fusion", 450 Broadway Gallery, NY, September 2001

all images(pdf)

Images illustrating the "Applied Aesthetics" CD


abstract of the "Applied Aesthetics" lecture at the CAA conference, 2001; full paper (pdf)

Shortly after I began to make diagrams I intended to show outside of the classroom, where I was already using them, I looked to connect that new way of working with older pieces by creating a survey of my production, beginning with a sculpture I made in my first year as a student at the Düsseldorf Academy. Drawings, film, mobile sculptures, installations and light installations followed. Only once I had assembled this grid (it also includes a few references to works I looked at) I remembered that the very first sculpture, upper left, was based on a book, namely "Language, Thought, Reality", by Benjamin Lee Whorf. Once I figured out that my first diagram popped out right at the start, everything that followed took on a different tint.

Light installations 1994 - 2001