Adelheid Mers (see bio below)

Performative Diagrammatics: Working with and explicitly valuing knowing in performing to affirm epistemic diversity  – and counter epistemic violence and its institutionalization – by figuring topologies of doing, being and knowing.

Short Statement: My work, which I summarize as Performative Diagrammatics, publicly functions as a mobile laboratory: a place to work things out. Audiences are invited to participate in facilitated workshops, using and altering Diagrammatic Instruments to model own ways of making sense, making connections between civic and cultural concepts and drawing on embodied values through movement and conversation.

Diagrammatic Instruments range from verbal prompts to pre-printed diagrams on whiteboards, fabricated objects, and live streaming, custom-coded 360° video. They are condensations of personal conversations and studio-based co-creation sessions around specific topics and formats, including critique and feedback processesDiagrammatic Instruments  develop slowly and are updated over time. Co-creators may become workshop facilitators.

Epistemic diversity means knowing differently – personally, socioculturally, or institutionally. Epistemic violence denies and actively undermines unfamiliar  or competing ways of knowing. Performative Diagrammatics affirms and supports epistemic diversity by creating ways in which to experience it, intentionally, artfully and communally.

Longer Statement:  As an artist, I am invested in finding ways of learning and amplifying how individuals know, how we know differently, and how differences aggregate beautifully. I say ‘as an artist’, because embodied knowing, or doing, is my path into any work, including reading, writing, teaching and administrating.

An investment in knowing differently, or epistemic diversity, is usually prompted by the experience of being different, and the struggles and unexpected alliances this offers. Post graduation, I made emigration and living in a second language a foundational, artistic act. In the US, I built performative objects and participatory light installations, and began to teach, in search of an intentional discourse community. Making diagrams for my studio and theory classes became part of my artistic practice, as did affirmative forms of studio critique. These elements now inform the core of my work, Performative Diagrammatics.

Performative Diagrammatics depends on sympoiesis, on co-creation with volunteers, often interdisciplinary artists and experimental musicians, recruited through supporters’ networks or other invitations. Projects revolve around questions, such as “How do you work?”, or “How do you conduct a meaningful conversation?”. Through our conversations, improvised movement, and experimenting with objects, we develop Diagrammatic Instruments that  condense our discoveries into lists of prompts, schematic drawings, or performative objects. These Diagrammatic Instruments then guide us in facilitating workshops and events with publics, towards unfolding related participant discovery. All core co-creators may become facilitators. Facilitators introduce workshops, demonstrate ways of interacting with Diagrammatic Instruments, and steward group dynamics. 

At best, Performative Diagrammatics amplifies a self-regard that arises from carefully appreciating own, small ways of doing and making sense. Looking back, I see the foundation for this bent in participating in many forms of craft, in slow explorations of the land, and also in joining an experimental music group as a youth, performing in a MusiCircus, under a circus tent and in John Cage’s presence.

Participants in Performative Diagrammatics workshops tell us they feel validated, and enjoyed how easily they entered into considering own and other values in exchanges both playful and meaningful. This work, while comfortable in gallery and museum settings, can take place anywhere. Observers of Performative Diagrammatics performances witness a group of people engrossed in playing games that are highly personal and because of that, together read as polyrhythmic, aggregating into to a ceremonious, complementary whole. 

This work is further shared through online documentation, and through writing and documentation for performance journals and other outlets. Some performances have also led to topologically transformed, custom-coded 360° video works that capture polyrhythm as a consequence of performing knowing, together, through movement in space.

This is ‘knowing together’ as linking, instead of ‘knowing apart’ as cutting, or ‘knowing against’ as eliminating. In the essay, “This is Play”, musician Steven Nachmanovitch defined peace as “a rich, complex, and multilayered form of interplay.” In this sense, I strive to make participatory, performative work, against epistemic violence and towards peace, not as a state, but an ongoing, personally performed activity.


Short Bio: Adelheid Mers is a visual artist who has developed and works through Performative Diagrammatics, a practice that includes elements of notation, consultation, installation, and video. Her research draws on close work with others, exploring cultural topologies at multiple scales. Educated at the University of Cologne, University Düsseldorf, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and the University of Chicago, she is Associate Professor and Chair of the department of Arts Administration and Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and currently co-leads the Performance and Pedagogy Working Group of the Performance Studies international conference.  Contact: adelheidmers (at) gmail.com. More: CVORCID IDSAIC faculty bio