Leigh Ledare: The Plot—Ruttenberg Contemporary Photography Series

Leigh Ledare (American, born 1976) pushes social systems to lay bare their underlying structures. His projects, which often rely on the enactment of complex social situations, are fundamentally collaborative; agency and authorship in these situations depend on interpersonal negotiations with and before the camera.

Recently, Ledare adapted an experiential social-psychological method developed by the Tavistock Institute as a means to explore these ideas. Enacted through a series of conversations among teams of participants and psychologists over the course of a multiday conference, this approach constructs a social “ecosystem” designed for the group’s self-analysis. The Tavistock method helps participants develop a set of tools for investigating individual authority and identity as they relate to factors
such as race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomics. Ledare transforms the method with one key modification: the presence of the artist and cameras as observers and collaborators during the meetings. This intervention causes shifts in the established structures of authority as well as assumed boundaries among the participants and psychologists—and it calls attention, by analogy, to the power relations binding artist, subject, and viewer in the making and display of works of art.

At the center of this exhibition is The Task, a film directed by Ledare based on a three-day Tavistock conference he organized in Chicago—a project that involved recruiting 30 participants, securing the collaboration of 10 psychologists trained in the method, and directing a film crew. Complex patterns of stereotyping and other projections of identity emerge through the participants’ discussions; authority is questioned, assumed, and taken away; and viewers are implicated as the participants become aware of subjective forces that exist beyond the imposed boundaries of the Tavistock system. The Task is accompanied by a series of photographs and assemblages of found mass media images, which act as allegories to the film’s chapters. With Ledare at its core, the entire project presents a highly structured series of dialectical encounters between the private and public, the individual and the group, and experience and representation.