Adelheid Mers is a visual artist living in Chicago. Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, she graduated with an MFA from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. She moved to Chicago with a stipend from the German Academic Exchange Service to attended the University of Chicago, has exhibited and lectured widely, curated and co-organized exhibitions, and received grants from the DAAD, the British Council, the NEA , the IAC, the SAIC and the City of Chicago. She is an Associate Professor in the Arts Administration and Policy program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also teaches in the Art History and Criticism, Visual and Critical Studies, and Sculpture Programs. She serves on the editorial board of WhiteWalls.
I make diagrams that map paths through existing formations - books or essays by particular authors, but also institutions and organizations. As a compulsive learner, something I do well is to make out relations, and to hold in mind multiple points of view. Mostly, my diagrams are specific to a site or to an occasion. Most are closely related to the arts, dealing with the artist as citizen and with beliefs and habits that permeate art worlds. This may sound solipsistic, but as the arts have since the sixties been increasingly framed in relation to economy, sciences and politics, this is an entry into a wide range of issues. What fascinates me in any context is how people make sense, myself included. The emphasis is on the activity, not on the result. Beliefs - cultural, political, religious - may initially be products of indoctrination and of habit, but once scrutinized, they tend to squirm, to shift, to make away, in short, they reveal themselves as being in flux. That of course is one reason why to examine how one makes sense can be upsetting, and why techniques to affect and arrest critical thinking are employed by those seeking power over others. I am making work that is intended to provoke audiences to give it a shot, or to at least watch how I not only struggle through the underbrush, but also have fun with it. I don’t think that the gumption to try to discern “the rules” as much as one’s own tenets, and then to take responsibility for one’s understanding, is necessarily tied to class, or even to education. The levels of sophistication may vary, but the impulse seems to arise in many contexts. Thus, I feel that I can work with many audiences, if I can only get exposed to them.
I have no shortage of subject matter, since each arising opportunity carries that in it. How to offer more effective entries into my work now occupies my attention. The documentation that best captures my work includes the people who participate in it. If I want to continue to present diagrams, which I do, I need to increasingly present instances of their uses as well. I am scheduling more opportunities for formal and informal conversations. My experience is that most viewers are interested in inserting themselves. Diagrams are testing grounds for scenarios that may or may not turn out to be convincing. I am seeking ways to emphasize this open-endedness, to document it with video, make it available not just for the duration of a presentation, but also as representation that can exist in conjunction with a diagram later, as a mode of its use.
By opening up my ways of making sense for public scrutiny, by mingling my points of view with those of others, I am framing myself as an artist who explores contemporary techniques of learning and of teaching through the arts. These techniques emphasize not to teach “down”, but to respect and in turn learn from those one encounters. I am not an activist who supports a particular subject, but an artist who supports a particular mode of being in the world - respect, responsibility and, as much as possible, fearlessness.