Artist as Problem Solver: listening, attention

On March 2nd, 2018, the Joyce Foundation organized The Artist as Problem Solver, as a conversation among artists and their supporters, whose work includes or revolves around community activations, often conducted long-term, and at considerable scale. The convening was hosted by Big Car at Tube Factory Art Space, in Indianapolis. Throughout, I heard two, intertwined narratives. One revolved around what Tony Bennett calls the exhibitionary complex[1], a historically evolved constellation of knowledge and power, the other worked out a cultural ecology description. The first framework was specifically being addressed along three lines of argument, as:

  • an economic system through which production and distribution of the arts are managed, with restricted access and lack of equity.
  • a cultural system that is philosophically anchored in the assumption of an intrinsic value of art. This grounding was strongly supported.
  • a system of expertise that manages access to both economy and culture, conveyed through the accredited education of artists, historians and administrators. This frame for expertise was regarded skeptically.

The alternate discourse deployed the model of a cultural ecology. The need to frame a new narrative initially arises from the fact that the exhibitionary complex does not equitably serve all. The cultural ecology model is evolving along the following markers:

  • The concept of cultural ecology allows for the – mutual – consideration of all participants in a given environment. Because it understands all participants as interconnected, it is intrinsically inclusive.
  • Specifically among those currently marginalized, participation and contribution grow from deep attention to social, economic and cultural needs and to existing capacities across an entire ecology.
  • Criticality arises from contextualization. There is an ethical mandate to listen Expertise is acquired responsively, in context. Because of that expertise cuts across sectors and disciplines.

As the exhibitionary complex revolves around the development of technologies of visuality, the arising ecology model is rooted in implicit models of acoustic space and audity, which is recognizable in the discourses that promote it.

A closer reading of the convening is represented in the Fractal 3-Line Matrix. Closely listening for thematic strands and uses of metaphor, three main topics presented themselves: A discussion of ‘practice’, references to ‘being’, and an exploration of ‘uses of art’.

Adelheid Mers, April 2018

[1] “For the emergence of the art museum was closely related to that of a wider range of institutions – history and natural science museums, dioramas and panoramas, national and, later, international exhibitions, arcades and department stores – which served as linked sites for the development and circulation of new disciplines (history, biology, art history, anthropology) and their discursive formations (the past, evolution, aesthetics, man) as well as for the development of new technologies of vision. Furthermore, […] these comprised an intersecting set of institutional and disciplinary relations which might be productively analysed as particular articulations of power and knowledge, […].” Bennett, Tony; The Exhibitionary Complex, in: new formations NUMBER 4 SPRING I 988 (, and “Reconsidering the Exhibitionary Complex”, in Latimer, Quinn; Documenta Reader. Prestel 2017



Posted in Uncategorized

Workshop notes: the Braid@WOUND

Caroline Woolard conceived of and designed and Stamatina Gregory curated WOUND (pronounced waʊnd) as a study center. Programs are scheduled throughout within the exhibition at The Cooper Union, to engage with the materials. The show is open from October 14 – November 11, 2016.

The afternoon of Saturday, October 15, a group of workshop participants and I spent an hour with the Braid Whiteboard. I briefly spoke about its connection to permutations of academic curriculum, and how the diagram can serve as a template in relation to which elements that make up arts practices can be highlighted, particularly in how they intersect at a given moment, but also how they remain mobile over time. I described the braid as a donut, the shape of which is imagined to be be subject to topological deformation, minimizing and maximizing positions, while nothing can be excised. With no beginning or end, it is continuously traversed by a trefoil. The diagram looks like an image of a life saver. We also briefly discussed how it grew in conjunction with another diagram, of Karen Barad’s concepts.



Painter Elisabeth Condon stepped up to explore. Getting ready to close her exhibition at Leslie Heller Workspace with an artist talk the following day, modalities of her studio practice were foremost on her mind, while other activities are currently minimized. Elisabeth focused on drawing out relations of material and visual languages and their iterations to mediating narratives.


Elisabeth Condon


Elisabeth Condon’s Braid

Members of the collective BFAMFAPhD  then shifted the conversation.  As a group who also has generalized working terms about elements that constitute art practice, their initial exercise here was to map our concepts onto each other. In later also outlining their practice in relation to the template, the distinctions between a research practice and a studio practice were fruitfully highlighted. That prompted us to pay attention to how the Braid proposes a key difference between work in the sciences and work in the arts, residing in the order in which language formation and making (object formation) occur. This then led to a conversation about how academic art education navigates this shared terrain, where elements of the explicitly stated methodologies that constitute the core of the sciences are partially, and often clumsily superimposed on arts education curricula. We agreed that this is an important conversation to expand on.


Agnes Szanyi (seated), Caroline Woolard, Susan Jahoda, Emilio Martinez Poppe of BFAMFAPhD


From thinking about the foundations of curricula we veered deeper into thinking more generally about occluded foundations of codes. The part of the Braid designated Managing is the place where power and opportunities, constraints and agency as part of practice are invited into the conversation. This goes far beyond instrumental considerations about how to develop a career. It is about seeking transparency about professional immersion in parameters of belief and justification, normalcy and appropriateness. I referred to reverberations of this theme in Vilém Flusser’s writing, and to Judith Butler’s What is Critique: An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue (2001). Here is a relevant quote, opposing modes of critique and judgment, bringing together Adorno and Foucault:

“For critique to operate as part of a praxis, for Adorno, is for it to apprehend the ways in which categories are themselves instituted, how the field of knowledge is ordered, and how what it suppresses returns, as it were, as its own constitutive occlusion. Judgments operate for both thinkers as ways to subsume a particular under an already constituted category, whereas critique asks after the occlusive constitution of the field of categories themselves. What becomes especially important for Foucault in this domain, to try to think the problem of freedom and, indeed, ethics in general, beyond judgment: critical thinking constitutes this kind of effort.”

While in New York this weekend, I had other experiences, too. They revolve around art that embraces sincerity, vulnerability and depth, and have become part of these considerations.  Before the opening of WOUND, on Thursday evening, I wandered, tired from the early flight. At the Strand, third floor collectibles, right at the first table past the elevator, I came up on Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”, the first book by Baldwin I read before moving to the US, not yet knowing the author, somewhat randomly picked from the collectibles department of my favorite (now closed) hometown book store. At attention, I circled the table and saw Margaret Mead and James Baldwin’s A Rap on Race, the transcript of a conversation held in 1970,  img_0149between an anthropologist and systems thinker and a poet and social critic. Here are the opening lines:

“Baldwin: Everyone really knows how long the blacks have been here. Everyone knows on what level blacks are involved with the American people and the American life. These are not secrets. It is not a question even of the ignorance of white people. It is a question of the fears of white people.

Mead: Yes, I know.

Baldwin: So that’s what makes it so hysterical, so unwieldy and so completely irretrievable. Reason cannot reach it. It is as though some great, great wound is in the whole body, and no one dares to operate: to close it, to examine it, to stitch it. “

Wound here is pronounced wuːnd.

Friday night, I saw Nastio Mosquito’s Respectable Thief videos at MoMA. I was surprised by the theme of the human quest for love as part of the presentation, particularly ringing after also seeing the Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter exhibit.

Saturday morning I saw Power to the People: 50 Years of the Black Panthers, at Steven Kasher gallery. The manifesto below needs no comment.img_9028

Having noted the announcement in The New Yorker on the flight, I was surprised to be able to get tickets to Anna Deveare Smith’s first preview performance  of Notes from the Field,  at Second Stage Theatre, Saturday night. notes-from-the-fieldWhen Claudia Rankine showed a compilation of videos of police violence and murder during her talk in Chicago recently, I learned how it differs to watch these documents communally. Not as an implicated voyeur at a suddenly dirty desktop, but as a citizen among others. I am now realizing that Anna Deveare Smith, in her play, deploys vulnerability on an unsettling, enormous scale. In front of text and images, Anna Deveare Smith channelled her interviewee’s words and emotions, their shortcomings mixed in with her own. She was buttressed by her digital scaffolding, and by her sidekick/musician, Marcus Shelby, whose contribution, I felt, was to emanate kindness, in sound and gesture, to model hope for coming dialogue.

During the Saturday afternoon conversation we had at WOUND (waʊnd), Judith Leemann asked how one might note not what is occluded, but first that something is occluded, to begin with. Caroline Woolard responded by speaking of insecurity, experienced in physically exercising towards a new skill, producing awkward giggles, embarrassment.

With the help of Judith Butler again, quoted from the same essay as above, I believe it is possible to show that the experience of vulnerability, small and large, as part of cultural practice relates to the very much larger one, the vulnerability of minds and bodies, to injustice and brutality in real life; that the considerations of epistemology, how and what one knows, when enacted, can be of use to imagining and then shaping policy.

“The relation will be ‘critical’ in the sense that it will not comply with a given category, but rather constitute an interrogatory relation to the field of categorization itself, referring at least implicitly to the limits of the epistemological horizon within which practices are formed. The point will not be to refer practice to a pregiven epistemological context, but to establish critique as the very practice that exposes the limits of that epistemological horizon itself, making the contours of the horizon appear, as it were, for the first time, we might say, in relation to its own limit. Moreover, the critical practice in question turns out to entail self-transformation in relation to a rule of conduct. How, then, does self-transformation lead to the exposure of this limit? How is self-transformation understood as a “practice of liberty,” and how is this practice understood as part of Foucault’s lexicon of virtue? […] It is, of course, one thing to conduct oneself in relation to a code of conduct, and it is another thing to form oneself as an ethical subject in relation to a code of conduct (and it will be yet another thing to form oneself as that which risks the orderliness of the code itself).”

I would like to propose this for discussion.



Posted in 3Line_Matrix, art, events, exhibitions

WOUND exhibition


WOUND is a study center for practices of listening and collaboration. The exhibition has been conceived of and designed by 2007 The Cooper UnionSchool of Art graduate Caroline Woolard as a practice space for “the mending of time and attention.”

The study center offers free trainings in listening, attention and collaboration, all of which foreground the relationship between capitalism and time, practice and temporality. Trainings are led by Ultra-red, Shaun Leonardo, the Order of the Third Bird, Project 404, Sick Time with Canaries, the Design Studio for Social Intervention, Adelheid Mers and the Extrapolation Factory. WOUND displays a collection of sculptural tools which can be used by visitors who have been trained by exhibition staff. Outside of training hours, the study center is a quiet place to sit, read and contemplate conceptions of time as articulated by Chloe Bass, Matthew Buckingham, Judith Leemann, Dave McKenzie, Linda Montano, Yoko Ono, taisha paggett and Ashley Hunt, Danica Phelps, the New York Horological Society and the National Watch and Clock Museum.

Opening Reception: Thursday, October 13, 2016, 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Ongoing Exhibition: October 14 – November 11, 2016
Wednesday – Sunday 1:00pm – 7:00pm

Exhibition is free and open to the public. Groups also welcome. Please RSVP for a training at

Saturday, October 15, 3:00PM

The Braid – conversations about practicing
Adelheid Mers

Artist and professor of Arts Administration and Policy at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, Adelheid Mers will facilitate diagram-aided conversations about their practices with/among artists, managers, theorists and others who are open to sharing their thinking and experiences.Conversations will be fluidly traced on a Braid Whiteboard and a supporting cast of related diagrams. The Braid diagram presents three domains that may variously combine into an individual art practice,alliteratively tagged Making, Mediating and Managing. Borrowed from Topology, this visualization is intended to serve as an opening and is itself open to transformation by its users. Documentation is encouraged.


Posted in 3Line_Matrix, art, events, exhibitions, Uncategorized

Up at .org

The new entry page is done.  Rollovers sparkle. The links need more work:


Posted in art

Talking Whiteboards – August sessions (post #4)

Two sessions were added in August.

Video excerpts are posted as they become available.

Day 1

Irina Botea skyped in from Romania. She used the Critique Template to speak about film making and collaboration, and then discussed The Braid . We didn’t draw, but it was quite mesmerizing and very poetic to have Irina’s video presence inhabiting the diagrams.

irina botea

Screenshot 2016-08-27 08.40.58


Day 2 Part 1

Mark Jeffrey and Judd Morrissey tackled The Braid, deliberately moving through, and expanding it.


Day 2 Part 2

Duncan MacKenzie navigated The Braid, with particular focus on the Managing and Mediating segments.


Conversations will continue. There’s talk about bringing the Whiteboards off site, too. For now, I’m editing video.

week 1week 2 week3

Posted in art, events, facilitating, The Braid

Talking Whiteboards – week 3

As the last full week of this project concluded, 39 artists and arts administrators had joined me in my studio. (One or two August dates are being scheduled for those who were away or had conflicts.) Many thanks go to all participants, to Asha Veal Brisebois for admin support and Jared Larson for videography. Next is editing. I’ve learned much, and look forward to reviewing the material in depth. Videos will be posted on Vimeo. For now, here’s a summary of the week.

Video excerpts are posted as they become available.

Day 1

Aimée Beaubien, Lisa Barense, Mary King and Pat Swanson: The Braid and Creativity (Duchamp/Torrance)

As visual artists, Aimée, Lisa, Mary and Pat work in very different contexts. In debating The Braid, a ‘pretzel’ was selected that isolated the areas of Mediating and Making against Managing. This theme echoed through much of the week.


Day 2 Part 1

Matt Mehlan: The Braid

A musician and arts administrator, Matt’s Braid was the one that made seamless use of the trefoil that wraps the donut, presenting  all aspects of making, mediating and managing as fully integrated.


Day 2 Part 2

Amy Nelson: Flexible Art Worlds, Critique Template and The Braid

As the Associate Director of the Youth Network Art & Science Academy at Breakthrough, Amy used the Whiteboards to show how the STEAM pedagogy she pursues ties critique processes into both art and science education.


Day 3 Part 1

Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), with Mark Diaz, Noelle Garcia, Gary Kafer, Scott Sikkema and Joseph Spilberg: The Braid, Flexible Art Worlds, Flusser’s Exile and Creativity, and Benjamin’s Work of Art

Serving as a staff retreat, salient points of the discussion were the rewriting of process diagrams of creativity as scenarios of evolving identities, explicit placement of student art making on an art world map while framing it in the context of art research, and the need to foster awareness of how learning is situated in relation to schools as institutions.



Day 3 Part 2

Jim Duignan and Rachel Harper: The Braid

In discussing their projects, including Seen and Heard and Stockyard Institute, Jim and Rachel considered in depth how organizations and temporary project platforms function to capture imagination and support in pursuit of pedagogic relationships that build trust, over a long time.



Day 4 Part 1

Barbara Koenen: The Braid

Barbara used The Braid to sketch out a career overview, as she is transitioning into new projects. It was quite amazing to see how her art work, service to Chicago’s artists at DCA/DCASE, and new plans to create a Reuse organization are all rooted in the same, selfless attention to the presence of resources, seeking aesthetic and effective ways to make them available for common good.


Day 4 Part 2

C. C. Ann Chen: The Braid and Critique Template

A painter and installation artist, Ann discussed both project and ongoing studio work in relation to The Braid’s areas. This gave rise to the notion that project work is tied closely into the Management loop,  while studio work seeks to focus on interactions between Mediating and Making.  We also pondered uses of the Critique Template in teaching.




Day 4 Part 3

Anna Kunz and Bryan Schuetze: The Braid

This discussion between a designer and a painter netted two moves that stood out for me: the designer’s insistence on an extended phase of non-intentional making as part of not only exploratory but also client focused projects, and the painter’s location of inspiration, often through tacit, physical experience in the realm of opportunity.


… see you in August, or on Vimeo …

Posted in art, events, facilitating, The Braid

Republishing 2004 Whiteboard Project

In 2004, I exhibited three dry erase coated diagrams and six vinyl banners, after George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think” (1996).To facilitate conversations, I was present during the run of the exhibit, which was located in a storefront on State and Randolph in Chicago, a space the city (now DCASE) ran at the time. I am putting this back out because a new printing of the book was just announced for September 2016, and Lakoff is commenting on the current election with this same material. The diagram below summarizes the main thesis that politics are rooted in conceptions of family structure. There are two more diagrams on this site, one about funding and another about education.


Posted in art, exhibitions, facilitating

Talking Whiteboards – week 2

This was a 4 day week, marked by long, in-depth conversations across multiple boards, and very exciting, free form uses of the Hairy Blob.

By request, here are the diagrams:

Video excerpts are posted as they become available.

Day 1

Rebecca George, Christine Connor, Ken Hogrefe: The Braid, Creativity (Duchamp/Torrance), Flusser’s Exile and Creativity, Flexible Art Worlds

Rebecca is an artist and teacher. She runs Art House in Chicago and brought along Christine and Ken, two artists in residence. Both are painters, have art/design degrees and now work in non-arts fields. Discussing painting through The Braid and Creativity boards, Ken also situated their practice in the Flexible Art Worlds context.


Hogrebe.jpgDay 2

Elizabeth Burke-Dain and Barbara Ciurej: Hairy Blob, The Braid

An administrator and a photographer, Elizabeth and Barbara agreed to experiment with the Hairy Blob, as a free form exercise. While Elizabeth identified the bottom center image as her shape, Barbara loosened it up in characterizing the movement of her practice. The discussion then seamlessly switched to The Braid.


Day 3  Part 1

Allison Lacher: The Braid, Critique Template

I was introduced to Allison Lacher by Allison Yasukawa, who participated last week. Allison Lacher runs Demo Project in Springfield, with Jeff Robinson. They currently have a show in Chicago,  at Roman Susan, so Allison was able to stop by on short  notice. She selected The Braid and the Critique Template, to discuss how arts administration, art practice and teaching intersect for her.


Day 3 Part 2

Ytasha L. Womack: Hairy Blob, The Braid

A while ago, I attended a workshop Ytasha offered, after I had read her book on Afrofuturism. Invested in the subject of time, she went for the Hairy Blob first, then continued on to The Braid, discussing her practice as a writer of prose, fiction and graphic novels, calling out mental and physical preparation, and deliberate incubation.


Day 4

Susy Bielak and Fred Schmalz: The Braid, Hairy Blob

Susy Bielak and Fred Schmalz, in their roles as artists and collaborators, fleshed out The Braid, attesting to their attention to the intricate movements around the torus that a complex, research based practice requires. They then talked through a specific, current project, using the Hairy Blob as a prompt for a Situationst exercise.



week 3

Posted in art, events, facilitating, The Braid

Talking Whiteboards – week 1

For three weeks, I am inviting visitors to my studio, to talk out loud what any one (or several) of seven diagrams  inspire them to consider. I am posting this at the end of the first week. The diagrams are presented on rolling Whiteboard easels. They can be annotated, and wheeled into any desired configuration. The seven boards are:

  • Creativity (after Duchamp and Torrance);
  • Hairy Blob (notations about time);
  • a summary of Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that focuses not on the aura, but on political aesthetics;
  • Flexible Art Worlds (also a course I teach during this same, three week period);
  • Flusser’s Exile and Creativity (from Writings),
  • a Studio Critique Template, and
  • The Braid (discussed earlier in this blog)

Mostly, The Braid was engaged, at times supplemented by Studio Critique, Creativity (after Duchamp and Torrance) and Flusser’s Exile and Creativity. Thanks go to all who have already participated and are still scheduled to join me, to Asha Veal Brisebois, who is facilitating this project, to Jared Larson for recording, and to DCASE for contributing funds.

Video excerpts are posted as they become available.

Week 1

Day 1

Erik Brown and Gibran Villalobos: The Braid

Having not met before, Gibran and Erik visited on Monday. This led to a reading of The Braid that alternated between Arts Administration and Art Making perspectives, determining considerable overlap, noting blind spots in each approach, and provoking thoughts if and how it might be desirable to open those up. Brown_VillalobosBraid Day 1

Day 2

Mike Nourse, Gerald Brown, Michelle Jacobsen, Mi-yeon Kwon: The Braid, Studio Critique, and Creativity (Duchamp/Torrance).

Two art students, two arts administrators, non-profit and for-profit.  Michelle stayed over after class, Mike arrive from the Hyde Park Art Center with Gerald, and Mi-yeon joined their ongoing conversation after about 45 minutes. Diving first into making and related metaphor, the conversation moved from The Braid to the Creativity board, explored positions  performed in mediating through the Critique Template, and then back to The Braid and aspects of managing. Mi-yeon shared art fair experience from her perspective as a gallerist.

FB_P1010803FB_P1010798Critique_Day 2

Day 3

Nell Taylor and Allison Yasukawa: The Braid

Like Erik and Gibran on Monday, Nell and Allison had not previously met. Accidental pairings appear to be a powerful facilitation setting, as the participants explore each others interests and  adjust focus on their own knowledge. As Nell used The Braid to think through organizational development of the non-profit she leads, including struggles around the demand for measurement, Allison reciprocated with thoughts about her early proximity to scientific process, her art practice and her work in education. Nell TaylorFBP1010817.jpg

Day 4 Part 1

Alessia Petrolito and Asha Veal Brisebois: The Braid

A few weeks ago, just before she moved back to Italy, Alessia had come to my studio and spoken about Exile and Creativity, a text we had talked about when she was a student. Now she returned by Skype, to share thoughts about the Braid she had prepared. Asha volunteered to take notes, as her Chicago surrogate, but the two pretty quickly moved toward a conversation. It culminated in Alessia proposing a funnel, both into and from the managing area of the braid, as the receptor and focussing device of  the language and meaning  created in the corresponding areas.

Asha_Alessia Braid.png

Day 4 Part 2

Kirsten Leenaars: Exile and Creativity and The Braid

A visual artist, Kirsten arranged a stage with two boards, Flusser’s Exile and Creativity and The Braid, moving from left to right. Kirsten’s most recent art project was to engage American and recently immigrated youth in a summer camp around the meanings of home. She considered the impact it had on the youth to be tacitly aware of her European origin. Situating the growth of this particular project in The Braid, she noted the primacy of her artistic intent that can come to fruition with the valued support of curators’ trust, and is her guidance in negotiations with institutional representatives to access and shape appropriate settings.Screenshot 2016-07-14 23.16.01

Day 4 Part 3

Olivia Junell and Asha Veal Brisebois: The Braid

Asha introduced Olivia to The Braid board. A consummate Arts Administrator, Olivia spoke about her journey to embrace development as her calling, and spoke about ‘riding the braid together’ with artists in the implementation of the projects she chooses to be part of.Screenshot 2016-07-14 23.16.41

Day 5

Sade Ragsdale and Dorota Biczel: Exile and Creativity

I met Sade in 2014, when she walked into my residency at the Cultural Center and read The Hairy Blob board cold, requesting no introduction. I asked her then to be part of this project, which I was beginning to envision. She was paired with Dorota, who just arrived from the airport for a short stay in Chicago to teach a workshop in the Flexible Art Worlds class. Sade selected Flusser’s Exile and Creativity to engage, and Dorota, knowing the underlying text well, joined into the conversation. Sade spoke of her own development, from a young adult to an emerging professional, linking the questions she asks and choices she makes to the stages Flusser indicates. Dorota then proposed not a linear reading, but the creation of a Venn diagram, in which stages are no longer successive, but states are thought to coexist. This  session concluded with a discussion of individual thought scapes, or personal epistemic models, a theme I am exploring through the 3-Line Matrix. Sade envisioned a cloud and the movement of droplets, and Dorota discussed her proclivity for molecular structures.



week 2

Posted in art, events, facilitating, The Braid

The Braid v.2


Posted in art, The Braid