Leigh Ledare: The Large Group (2016)
The Large Group is a central excerpt from 2016’s The Here and the Now (Zurich 1:1) first shown as a commission for the European biennial Manifesta 11. Over three-days, meetings alternated between 12 Small Group sessions, 5 Large Group sessions, Plenary meetings, Staff meetings, and One-on-One Reflection sessions. The full project culminated in nearly 18 hours of films as well as a series of works on paper.
In The Large Group a social apparatus sets the stage for the psychological production of lived dynamics. Despite our attempts to closet the chaos of our own internal emotions, at moments these dynamics exceed our control and we find ourselves “caught up”. For The Large Group participants were asked to seat themselves in an arrangement of 24 chairs positioned in three concentric circles. Confronted by this arrangement — and the impossibility for any member to maintain eye contact with all other members of the group — participants not only imported their identities, but also specific feelings, affects and anxieties that surfaced through their relation to the group. Participants were discouraged from lapsing into private histories or desires for therapy. Nor did the Psychologists propose topics for group discussion. Rather, by forcing the group to encounter itself in the “here and now,” and thus confront face to face the differences, biases and contradictions held by other members of the group, an intensely self- reflexive system was created.
Inside this system, reflection detourns in unanticipatible ways—from first impressions, stereotypes and projections, to more complex patterns of identification, transference and role that emerged as the sessions evolved (1). Four camera operators mapped the group’s somatic and discursive interactions, capturing as feedback a multi-faceted portrait of the “group-as-a-whole.” Mirroring the gaze of the collective’s 24 individuals, plus the many subgroupings that formed, the cameras’ multiple viewpoints were edited in-sync. Once edited, the “real-time” unfolding of The Large Group was subtitled in English (2).
(1) Groups inevitably nominate certain individuals into distinct roles—appointing some members into leadership positions, and possibly deposing others, caretaking for some, or sacrificing others as scapegoats. Attuning oneself to these dynamics throws into relief how individuals and identities are unconsciously used by the group.
(2) The sessions were originally held in Swiss German, which not constituting a written language foregrounds an inclusion and exclusion around who can be considered specifically “Swiss”.