Contact: adelheidmers (at) gmail.com
Short Bio: Adelheid Mers works through Performative Diagrammatics, a discursive and artistic practice that explores epistemic diversity and includes elements of facilitation, performance, installation, and video. Work takes place at conferences, exhibitions, retreats and other convenings, which in turn become occasions for addressing it through writing and publication. Mers is a professor and currently serves as the chair of the department of Arts Administration and Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Education: Before art school, and setting my future path, I was part of an experimental youth music group, studying alternative notation and other performance facilitating devices, culminating in a MusiCircus event led by John Cage himself, under an actual circus tent, in Bonn, Germany (1979). Even for a lower middle class, non-academic family, Fluxus was a notable presence in the cultural life of my hometown, Düsseldorf, Germany, with public performances by Otto Piene and Group Zero, Joseph Beuys, and Nam June Paik, for example. In 1986, I graduated from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, with an interdisciplinary MFA, and additional coursework in Linguistics and Philosophy at the Universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne. Striving to integrate my pursuits around movement, notation and space, I moved to Chicago in 1988, with a fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), to attend the University of Chicago Committee for the Visual Arts.
Exhibitions and Projects: From 1989, I built a studio practice in Chicago, largely exhibiting with artist-run and university galleries, and began to teach. Being in conversation turned out to be the second leg of emerging, dialogic work, making the classroom my other 'studio'. Key exhibitions and events took place in Chicago, Berlin, Vienna and British Columbia, Canada, the locations where my primary networks consolidated. In 1996, I was the youngest participant in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s, "Art in Chicago 1945-1995” , curated by Lynne Warren. My contribution was a light installation. From 1999 - 2001, I organized a series of 'Fusion Projects' in Chicago and New York, inviting artists to alter each others' works in iterating exhibits. Process and its facilitation within an exhibition space became crucial. In 2004, a Loop residency with the City of Chicago revolved around my diagrams based on George Lakoff's book, "How Liberals and Conservatives Think", inviting visitors to pose with slogan banners and to locate themselves on a visualized, political spectrum. In 2005, I participated in the Hyde Park Art Center’s inaugural exhibition, “Takeover”, presenting a 15 foot square organization diagram based on stakeholder conversations, showing the interspersed realms of board members, teaching and exhibiting artists, administrators and funders in creating the daily life and structure of the Art Center. Other such diagrams were created for and exhibited at the Rockford Art Museum and many other arts organizations, each time asking stakeholders to actively place themselves in complex contexts.
In 2008, I spent a summer at the Banff Art Centre, funded by a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Grant, as part of an ongoing collaboration with TRU, a university in Kamloops, British Columbia. At this residency, colleagues invited me to accompany studio visits and conversations with 'live' diagram drawing responses, leading to a multi-year series of conversations about practice, its contribution to knowledge, and its place in Western and non-Western contexts. Another key exhibit then took place again at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011, curated by Tricia van Eck, as part of a series of interactions for “Without You I’m Nothing”. I produced five mobile, pre-printed, magnetic diagram Whiteboards, On Creativity, Technology, Time, Migration, and Art Worlds which I animated daily through performative talks.
In 2012 residencies in Krems and Vienna, Austria, evolved into a project funded by the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, to continue the work begun in Banff, asking artists and experimental musicians “How do you work?”, drawing out their ways of practicing in the double sense of facilitating and diagrammatically interpreting conversations, and commissioning new, performative works in response. Outcomes of this project were exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, in tandem with a 3-month, public artist residency pilot I was invited to conduct (2014). There, I interacted with Chicago based experimental artists and musicians in the same manner as in Vienna.
Concluding that the public residency model was what best supported my work, I then built out my studio into a meeting site in 2016. Supported by project grants from first DCASE and then IAC, I created a summary diagram using what I learned in previous interactions, to facilitate conversations not with, but among artist about their modes of work. I call it 'The Braid'. The project invited over 45 artists into conversation. A series of videos was created and is publicly shared on Vimeo. After holding workshops with 'The Braid' whiteboard at the Cooper Union Gallery, New York (2017), I developed a low cost "Braid kit" using only a string with small attachments that could travel easily and be assembled as a floor installation. This in turn accessed embodied ways of knowing through movement. A second project, "Performative Topologies", then began to take shape at my studio with volunteers in 2017, leading to a 2018/2019 seminar at the Bauhaus University in Weimar with a dedicated group of students, towards a performance exhibition in Berlin. In March 2019, the "Performative Diagrammatics Laboratory" was launched at Kunstverein Tiergarten Nord, staged as a series of artist facilitated, public workshops with diagrammatic instruments. This work was supported by two Erasmus grants, the European University research and exchange fund, and by supplementary funding through SAIC to invite the Chicago-based volunteers. A third Erasmus grant was awarded for 2020 to expand this work, and is on hold until travel can resume.
Returning from Berlin, I brought the "Performative Diagrammatics Lab" to SAIC's Sullivan Galleries (2019), staging workshops with volunteers towards a new project that again moved to my studio for further development after the exhibition closed. This project, "Micro-practices for a New Gentleness", is rooted in the concept of affirmative critique and self regard, as facilitated group performances with publics. In early 2020, it was prototyped at the Vilém Flusser Archiv Berlin, and then performed at Karimanzutto, Mexico City. This work also spawned a collaboration with Mary Jo Reynolds and a group of men experiencing homelessness she advocates for, with a resulting video presented at The Drawing Center, New York (2020). The Performative Diagrammatics Lab was also invited to be one of 5 co-applicants, again to SSHRC, for a Canadian Project with people experiencing Opioid Addiction, pioneering artistic mitigations with impacted populations, which was selected for an award in 2020. In 2021, I was awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in the category of Performance-based Art, New Performance Forms.
Recent Conferences and Publications: In 2019, I presented the Braid workshop at the 25th Performance Studies International Conference in Calgary, Canada. My paper for the conference publication is called "Performative Diagrammatics: an artistic exploration of the relation between epistemic diversity and systemic elasticity." In 2020, I joined the conference team, now co-organizing a working group on Performance and Pedagogy. On-line events will take place in 2021, titled "Institutions of pedagogy - performing ways of knowing". "The Braid: Moving Across Dimensions from Representation to Performativity" is a contribution to Birte Kleine-Benne's edited book, Exploring Dispositifs, (2021). "Performative Topologies" is a paper invited for a special issue, Flesh Circuits, of the International Journal of Performance Studies and Digital Media (2021). Two short texts, on The Braid and Performative Topologies, were included in November 2020 on a practice-sharing site examining language-based art and choreography. A text from 2009, "Stalking the Continuum", was included in a collection, Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism (2021. An edited issue for the Quarterly Magazine of the Centre for Sustainability in the Arts, titled "For a New Gentleness," was published, also in 2021.