Deb Mexicotte, Managing Director of Arts Engine discusses the Arts Initiative-funded pilot project, Phototocracy: Defining Democracy Through Stories and Art, and how it shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic creating a new meaning for the work.

phase I: collecting stories & art

Photocracy: Defining Democracy Through Stories & Art invites students, faculty, staff, and alum from the U-M community to share what democracy means to them by submitting an image along with a short written or audio- or video-recorded explanation of the personal meaning of that image. Submissions are showcased online in an ever-growing collage of images and videos, displaying a diverse and wide-ranging collection of submissions demonstrating the unique perspectives of our campus community.

phase II: retelling stories as art

The Photocracy: Call for Artists and Designers sought faculty and graduate student artists and designers to propose a commissioned piece developed using the collected images, text, and recordings in the Photocracy gallery as source material and inspiration for an interactive work announced in January 2021 and developed throughout the Winter 2021 semester. Our community will benefit from interacting with the pre-election inspired work and reflecting on their evolving ideas of democracy and the American experiment through interaction with the selected commissions. Read more about the selected artists and their projects below and stay tuned for further details and ways you can interact!

Leonard Bopp

Master’s Student, Orchestral Conducting
School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Leonard Bopp is currently a second-year masters student in orchestral conducting at the University of Michigan. He is the Artistic Director of the BlackBox Ensemble, a New York City-based contemporary music ensemble devoted to using new music as a platform to engage with the social issues of our time. Quickly emerging as one of the most promising new music ventures in New York, the ensemble was recently named a recipient of the inaugural Impact Award from the EXCEL Office at the University of Michigan. Originally from upstate NY, Leonard studied trumpet at Juilliard Pre-College before attending Williams College, where he earned a bachelors degree in Music (with highest honors) and English. At Williams, he was Assistant Conductor of the Berkshire Symphony, Student Director of the I/O Contemporary Music Festival, and conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Williams. In addition, Leonard has pursued solo and interdisciplinary creative projects as a composer, curator, and essayist which have been supported at the University of Michigan by EXCEL, the U-M Libraries, the International Institute, and ArtsEngine.

For this project, I will create an interactive online exhibition that highlights the history of political engagement in the arts. Using selected photos and statements from the online Photocracy gallery, I will curate pages that highlight individual works of art –  as well as broader artistic traditions – in all forms that speak to the themes presented in the original photo. In many cases, these works will be performed and created by University of Michigan students. I will also invite experts in specific artistic traditions from throughout the university to curate individual pages. Most importantly, this platform will be entirely interactive, with viewers able to add works that they feel resonate with the themes of the exhibition to the online gallery. In this way, the aim of this project is only curating an exhibition about artistic modes of democratic engagement, but democratizing the act of curation itself. 

Amy Chavasse & Charli Brissey

Professors, Dance
School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Amy Chavasse, choreographer, performer, educator, improviser, and Artistic Director of Chavasse Dance & Performance is currently a Professor at the University of Michigan. Her work has been presented throughout the U.S. including premieres of new work at Triskelion Presents in Brooklyn in June 2015 and 2017, earning the comment- “Amy Chavasse is a continual surprise, solo or ensemble. Her dances are simultaneously absurd, smart and disturbing, and she chooses her collaborators well.” (Quinn Batson- OffOffOff). READ MORE…

Charli Brissey is an interdisciplinary artist, scholar, and teacher who works choreographically with various technologies and materials. This primarily includes bodies, cameras, language, instincts, and ecosystems. Their research integrates studies in feminist theory, technology, and science, and centers choreography as an invaluable methodology to research social-political-ecological phenomena. READ MORE…

The Paradox of Democracy: Faultlines and False Algorithms of Consent and Dissent
An interactive site curating the detritus of the glitched narrative of American democracy, circa 2021

Contributing artists:
J’Sun Howard
Sacramento Know
Ambika Raina
Jess Pretty
Fabiola Torralba

This interactive online installation questions and reveals the multiplicitous glitched narratives of American democracy through curated performance, word, video, and sound (of multiple contributors, artists, citizens at-large, users, malcontents and gamers). This projects questions whose voices and experiences write the tale of American democracy, and how the flooding of virtual imagery and data streams shape the perception and distribution of those narratives. How might a glitch aesthetic disrupt, reclaim, and redistribute the collective stories we tell of Democracy?