Adelheid Mers: Teaching + Curriculum

Seen through the lens of extensive advising and teaching experience, my perspective on curriculum is also contained in THE BRAID template, a diagram alliteratively tagged making, mediating, and managing. Making captures studio practice with all its concerns; mediating marks the curricular entry of critical and theoretical reflection into art making and teaching, mainly through art history and art sociology frameworks; while managing, initially narrowly understood as professional practice, is currently being expanded into an ecological understanding of arts and culture that integrates making, research and the creation of organizational structures. The course of my academic career mirrors the evolution of my understanding of this trajectory.

Courses I designed are marked as New_Course, those taught from existing descriptions as Core_Course. Courses are listed in reverse order, for the year they were first offered. Many of these courses I was able to teach multiple times, some were one-time experiments, others were co-taught. A few were taken on by colleagues, who have since updated them and made them their own.

Course Descriptions:

2020_New_Course_Reading as Creative Practice (Freshpeople)

Contemporary art making goes hand in hand with scholarship, with reading and writing. This course explores how artists can approach reading in new ways, by showing how moving and making, thinking, speaking and reading connect on a visceral, physical and material level. We will ask: How is reading grounded in perception and doing? How does studio practice connect to the practice of reading? This class is for students who love to read and those that find themselves avoiding it. Through studio assignments, you will be prompted to draw on your existing strengths across media and disciplines, including drawing, building, capturing, editing and performance modes of working, and expand those into ways of engaging with reading as creative practice. SAIC

2019_New_Course_Performance Studies: Embodying Art and Cultural Policy Research (Senior/Grad)

This course, a seminar and laboratory, is situated at the triple intersection of (1) Art Research, drawing on course participants' artistic, scholarly and managerial practices, particularly in the ways they shape each other; (2) Performance Studies, addressing its broad engagement across theater, performance art, choreography, and modes of research, including modes of notation and forms of field work; and (3) Cultural and Cultural Policy Studies, looking particularly towards ways of modeling institutions and cultural ecologies, and social justice concerns. Through readings, group and individual projects, we will explore how Performance Studies with its focus on embodiment is a strong complement for Art Research and Cultural/Policy Studies inflected cultural work and activism, offering up broader tactics for diverse practices. SAIC

2019_Course Update_Art Economies (to be retitled Arts Ecologies) (Senior/Grad)

Art Economies discusses value formations in the arts through three key metaphors: Art Worlds, Art Fields and Arts Ecologies. Each metaphor is connected to a specific discourse, with linking models to be observed between each. Art Worlds are framed through histories of and critical debates in Museum Studies. Art Fields are worked out primarily through sociological debates, taking as a baseline Bourdieu's and Baudrillard's mobilizations of institutions and practices and leading into Creative Industries models. Surpassing those, Arts Ecologies provide insights into theories of networks, transnational capital and related media policies. Operating contemporaneously, the three discourses are refracted through each other. This course will untangle lines of argument, and support artists, designers and arts administrators not only in critically navigating the complex vocabularies, but also in interacting with the institutional frameworks they have spawned. SAIC

2018_Block Seminar_Performative Diagrammatics as Medium of Artistic Research

Artist and researcher Adelheid Mers (lives and works/teaches in Chicago) uses diagrammatic means to probe artistic and communal processes of knowing and working. This seminar is part of the concept preparation for an exhibition in March 2019 in Berlin, at Kunstverein Tiergarten Nord, that Mers will participate in. This course is offered as a block seminar. Using existing diagrammatic templates (Fractal 3-Line Matrix und Braid), participants will be able to conduct facilitated auto-epistemologies that tease out personally preferred ways of working and creating new knowledge (cognitive engines). This material will be the basis for collaborative work that will consider mobile, topological forms of public, meta-cognitive spaces. A leading question is how communal knowledge emerges in context. Our explorations will include performative uses of simple objects and gestures to experiment with arising, connective patterns. In preparation for the exhibition, field trips to Berlin Moabit will serve to establish connections within the local, cultural ecology, with the goal to develop ways to offer participatory uses for the installation. Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany

2018_Core_Module_Theories of Art Production and Organizations (Grad)

This module explores the environment and framework for the production of cultural goods. It provides an overview of current theories on the production of cultural goods, and you will critically reflect on these theories in the context of professional practice. You will also analyse the role of cultural organisations within their broad network in society, politics and the market. Content for this module was commissoned for a new, online MA program, offered in collaboration by Leuphana University and the Goethe Institut, Germany

2018_ Course Update_Art Economies (Senior/Grad)

This course has been significantly updated to address the impact of digital economies and the shifts in value creation that are occurring along technological axes. Topics include the Sharing Economy; Branding, Reputation and Information Literacy; Digital Humanities and the rise of Project Work; Blockchain and Organizing for the Arts; and more.

2017_Study Trip_Course_Documenta 14 Co-taught with Mechtild Widrich. SAIC

2016_New_Course_Flexible Art Worlds (Junior/Senior)

This course explores the various interests and systems that animate art worlds. Those who create arts businesses, operate arts organizations and participate in the work of arts institutions shape how a significant part of culture is produced. By articulating and enacting plans, missions, programs and policies, professional and volunteer cultural workers advance rationales that materialize as specific opportunities, support, production, presentation and dialogue. These activities are driven by multiple interests, embedded in popular, economic and academic discourses, enacted variously at local, national and global scale. Drawing on contemporary examples and including experience contributed by seminar participants and visiting lecturers, this intensive course will lay out a foundation on which to assess the many positions currently active in cultural networks. Students who are trying to establish art careers and students who aspire to work or already have experience working as arts administrators are equally addressed. This course was developed with the support of Asha Iman Veal. SAIC

2015_New_Course_Also Makes Art (Senior/Grad)

Arts education focuses on making, grounded by looking/listening, and contextualized through reading, writing, and critical reflection. This course asks if studies in cultural practices that are based in criticality, for example curation, art history and arts management, can and/or should be contextualized by art making. Are forms of art knowledge accessible? Open to BA/MA participants and others who would like to pursue this question, this course offers support to students who want to include art making in their research experience, through group advising and critique, addressing individual projects and themes, including techniques and materials. As artists often engage theory to support their own creative practice, this course explores how art making can be integrated with other professional/theoretical practices in the arts. SAIC

2015_New_Course_Media Futures (Senior/Grad)

Media Futures will also be an exhibition at the Sullivan Galleries that will explore the many ways in which media intersects with fine art and other contexts of creative output and changes the way museums and other cultural institutions think about presentation. Media art emphasizes continual reinvention, innovation, and complex global collaborations across various media platforms. Constant reconfiguration of relationships between artist, technician, designer, presenter, funder and audience have become the norm for much media-based work. Curated and created by students of the team-taught graduate seminar of the same name, the show will follow the interests of young media art practitioners, curators, and theorists into the future threads of media art and design practice. SAIC

2012_Study Trip_Course_The Baltic Triangle Co-taught with Nick Lowe. SAIC

2012_New_Course_Mapping the Artworld (Junior/Senior)

Far from being isolated in their studios, artists need to develop an extended understanding of the histories and socio-political environments that have informed and drive current trends and policy developments in public, private and alternative arts institutions, among them galleries, museums, auction houses, commissioning and funding agencies, schools, professional associations, residency sites and publications as well as collectors and other publics. The goal is to gain an analytical overview and communication skills that allow artists to critically act within that context, and to be empowered to shape the very institutions that frame production and presentation of artwork. SAIC

2012_Core_Course_Curatorial Practices (Grad)

Students in this class will develop and select their own roles to join in and support the production of all aspects of the exhibition The Hairy Blob, in collaboration with Hyde Park Art Center staff, including programming, educational materials, marketing, installation support and more.

Curated by Adelheid Mers, this exhibition has many moving parts. It focuses on how artists visualize time and will run at the Hyde Park Art Center from April 22 to July 29, 2012, presenting video, mobile sculpture, drawing, changing installations, dance and audio performance work in the first floor galleries and on the video façade. Additional works and commentary will be featured in the 'asteroid belt' online component, reconfigured weekly throughout the exhibition by invited writers and other contributors, and serving as a depository afterwards. SAIC

2010_New_Course_Ethics of Accumulation and Distribution (Senior/Grad)

Through case studies, this course will identify and evaluate historic and contemporary narratives that impact flows of objects through local, national and global contexts, including public and private collections, museums, archives, alternative and temporary settings. Issues of authorship, ownership, access and policy formulation will be read through the lens of discourse analysis. Goals are to question players’ responsibilities to peers and constituencies and to frame responsibilities for the presentation, interpretation and preservation of artifacts. Students are expected to participate in and to lead discussions, and to complete either a critical study or a related project. SAIC

2010_New_Course_Curatorial Models - Experimental Contexts (Grad)

In this course, students will survey, analyze and develop experimental curatorial models. Discussion will include actual and virtual, local, national and international curatorial practices that have the capability to shift or occur outside of institutional boundaries. Students will have the opportunity to propose, develop, critically back up, and explore experimental models. Experimentation may revolve around participants' roles, location, materiality, media and technology, spatial and temporal extension, funding approaches, aesthetic, social and political criticality and other topics. Work resulting from this course may be a critical study, a plan, a grant application, projects in progress, fully implemented concepts, or a combination of those options. SAIC

2009_New_Course_Complementary Practices (Senior/Grad)

This course pairs MA and MFA candidates to establish a forum in which modes of research that course participants have developed in their studio, academic and administrative practices are examined and compared. Potential intersections will be addressed through self-generated, collaborative projects that may include, but are not limited to exhibition proposals, archives, catalogs or documentaries. The goal here is not to place the MA/MFA orientations as oppositional but to create an intensely complementary and interdependent professional endeavor that may impact future practice. Dan Devening was invited to co-teach this course. As part of the course, each student was provided with a personal diagram of their mode of practice. The group project the course developed was an exhibition event, "Object Symposium". A materials collection related to the event was deposited in the Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection at SAIC.

Object Symposium Video:

2009_New_Course_Art Economies (Senior/Grad)

Creative Industries discourses posit artists’ work as model of entrepreneurism in support of a greater realm of design that produces value-added commodities through information technologies. Developed in the late1990’s after cultural critique had identified pedagogical, social and political uses of the arts throughout the 70’s and 80’s, this move completes a full turn away from the traditional “art-for-art’s-sake” framework indicative of high culture, towards an understanding of culture as resource. The valuation of art worlds, works and practices shifts depending on the framework evoked, leading to market, community and/or resistance inflected rhetorics. This seminar will attempt to untangle the strands. SAIC

2008_Core_Course_Departmental Colloquia (Grad)

A course that invites visiting speakers, to connect to core curricular topics. SAIC

2008_Core_Course_Arts Organizations in Society (Grad)

This course offers a foundation in contemporary theories of cultural policy while offering strategies for re-thinking the possibilities of arts administration. A central objective of the course is to develop an understanding of the mission and operation of different arts organizations in the context of society’s structures and needs. Cultural policy in the US, along with other national models, is critically analyzed. Current debates in a variety of disciplines touching on the production, administration, and circulation of culture are explored as a way to begin to define the ethical positions of cultural display and reception. SAIC

2007_New_Course_Diagrams in Art and Activism (Senior/Grad)

Diagrams as forms of communication, as tools of multi-modal reasoning, and as artistic strategy are central to this seminar. This semester only, students will have the opportunity to create a course related exhibition at Gallery 2, and to participate in the exhibition in any self-selected role, for example as artist, as curator, or as writer. Please be aware that a significant effort and extra time will be required. You are expected to participate in the creation of the exhibition, to read and discuss assigned readings, and to prepare a final paper/report on a topic of your choice that builds on your exhibition involvement.

The students titled the exhibition they conceptualized and curated "Forks, Tables, Napkins". SAIC

2007_New_Course_Art as Research (Senior/Grad)

This course will examine how forms of artistic research may contribute to, interpret, use or transform scientific methods and/or technologies. It will consider art making through the lens of Consciousness Studies, addressing the relations of making and thinking, of language, metaphor, perception and imagination. It will outline how visual and literal skills along with intuitive and logical approaches are traditionally perceived to be distributed within fields of endeavor and have been valued, emphasized and combined in different ways. The intent of the course is to develop contemporary, working models for creative practices. SAIC

2006_New_Course_Artist Roles in 21st Century Practice (Junior/Senior)

Artist/philosopher/yoga practitioner Adrian Piper states in her text 'On Wearing Three Hats': "My variety of professional activities are all different, equally essential expressions of one self. " This course explores how one can sustain multiple practices within and across the arts by recognizing established and/or instituting innovative frameworks that support one's needs. Examples of individuals or groups who have successfully combined art practice with work as administrators, critics, curators, designers, editors, educators, or with other professional practices will be introduced and critically examined. Students' experiences and aspirations will serve as the foundation for course projects and additional research.

2005_New_Course_Art on Location: Biennials as Site SAIC

2005_New_Course_Applied Aesthetics (Senior/Grad)

This interdisciplinary, advanced research seminar was designed with the intent to study aesthetic theory with an immediate view to examine its applicability and usefulness in relation to the work produced by the seminar participants. Readings cover a broad range of Aesthetic Theory. SAIC

2004_New_Course_The Telematic Society - Media, Communication, and Ethics (Senior/Grad) This course introduces the work of media theorist Vilém Flusser. SAIC

2004_New_Course_Statements, Grants, Proposals (Senior/Grad) SAIC

2004_New_Course_Developing Project Proposals (Junior/Senior) SAIC

2004_New_Course_Celebration and Festivity (Senior/Grad)

Settings for public, communal events are carnivals and parades, bonfires, amusement parks and dance clubs, parties and flash mobs. Events may be innovative or traditional, present challenges to power or be designed to manipulate, be spontaneous outbursts or ritual ceremonies. These structures are echoed in the art world by situationist interventions, fluxus happenings, public performances and performance art, tactical media manifestations, orchestrated audience participation like Pierre Huyghe’s “Streamside Day Celebration”, and art festivals like “Burning Man.” Many of the contemporary works challenge boundaries between life and art, or between art and politics. What all these public transgessions of the everyday have in common is that they are partially unpredictable because they tap into the abandonment and energies of crowds. This class will assess celebrations, festivals and their settings as critical and affirmative functions within societies, and as subject and element of the creative process in contemporary artwork. Readings will include Elias Canetti’s “Crowds and Power.” We will extensively consider artwork that addresses the above and will give significant room to discuss seminar participants’ related projects and experiences. SAIC

2002_New_Course_Authorship and Identity (Senior/Grad)

Driven by artists and theorists, the role of the artist is currently being reconstructed to embrace concepts of diversity, hybridity and responsibility to audiences. These adjustments are based in part on a re-evaluation of concepts of identity. In today's global, post-modern society, we work in and through communities that interact and thus reshape each other. Traditional Western philosophy assumes that societies are composed of stable, autonomous individuals. This position is opposed by claims that selves can be realized only in and through communities, and that we do not possess identities outside of the social matrix. For today’s artists/authors/designers, who may work individually or in collectives, with or without an audience in mind, it is useful to acquire a working knowledge of theories of identity that underlie practice, as they affect the personal satisfaction as well as the scope of productivity of artists in their respective societal contexts. We will seek for evidence of the implementation of concepts of identity in work by historic and contemporary artists and curators from varied cultural contexts, while trying to develop working strategies for the future. In group critiques and guided individual explorations students will have the opportunity to plumb and compare their own approaches within a critical discourse. SAIC

2002_Core_Course_Visual Communication (ugrad) University of Chicago

2001_Core_Course_Figure Drawing (ugrad) University of Chicago

2001_Core_Course_Modern/Postmodern Survey (grad) SAIC

2000_Core_Course_Installationism (Senior/Grad) SAIC

1999_Core_Course_Fundamentals of 2-d Design Columbia College


The course is divided into four thematic sections that address fundamental areas of an artist’s experience: ‘Work and Leisure’, ‘Quality and Taste’, ‘Who is Original’, and ‘Choice’. Each section consists of lectures, readings and discussions, sculptural assignments, introductions to materials and techniques, and writing assignments. Many of the School’s resources will be introduced. SAIC

1998_New_Course_Theory and Practice (Junior/Senior) SAIC

1998/99_Core_Course_Sculpture (Junior/Senior) SAIC

1998_Core_Environmental Arts Northwestern University

1998_Core_Course_Beginning Drawing Northwestern University


This 4 week workshop within the BAFA program sculpture segment was designed to shift the focus of artistic investigation to the role light plays in the fields of art. It combined studio work with reading assignments and discussions focused on the philosophical context of perception. Alfred University, NY

1996/97_Core_Course_Sculpture 1 Illinois State University

1996/97_Core_Course_Sculpture 2 Illinois State University

1996/97_Core_Course_Sculpture 3 Illinois State University

1996_Core_Course_Beginning Sculpture (Sophomore) SAIC

Liberal Arts and Foundations Courses taught at the American Academy of Art, Chicago, 1994-1996

"Concepts of Space", "“Foundations and Uses of Knowledge”, "Philosophy of Aesthetics", "Science of Perception", "Communication", "Fundamentals 101", "Fundamentals 102"

In a video created in 1996, students manifest Guignol/Kasperle/Punch folk traditions in presenting their learning experience.