Triangle Network was founded by artist Sir Anthony Caro and collector and philanthropist Robert Loder through an artists’ workshop in upstate New York in the summer of 1982.
The workshop, which continues to be a regular event in the US, brought together 25 emerging and mid-career artists from the USA, Canada and the UK – hence the name Triangle – to make work informed by new ideas, materials and media, and influenced by each other’s practice and the context of the workshop.
At the end of the two weeks, the workshop held an open day in which audiences were invited to visit the site, meet artists and discuss artworks at various stages of completion. The informal and non-institutional nature of the workshop encouraged an alternative way of presenting and talking about art-making with the wider public.
Free from having to produce a finished object or present a final outcome, the workshop allowed artists to experiment and focus on process rather than product. This included peers and the public in conversations that furthered the development of a specific piece and, often, the direction of an artist’s practice. Talking about the 1982 workshop, Sir Anthony Caro recalled:
‘’There was an incredible sharing of ideas, knowledge and techniques… All the people who came to Triangle were makers. It is through the friendships you build by spending time with other people that you can get the kind of support and guidance you need…. With the workshops, we wanted to create a structure that revolved around talking and making art. It’s totally art-orientated. For those two weeks, that’s your life!’’
After a few successful editions of the workshops in the USA, the organisers, including Willard Boepple, Karen Wilkin and others, decided to widen the project’s geographical reach and invite artists from South Africa, namely David Koloane and Bill Ainsley. They highlighted the workshop’s lack of hierarchical structure, as there were no teacher vs. student dynamics; instead artists would learn by being around each other, sharing skills, discussing techniques, and debating each other's work and practices. Furthermore, the informal nature of the workshop meant that artists could organise the project without relying on museum, academic or commercial infrastructure and any agendas or restrictions that these might impose. With such an ideal framework for the context of South Africa at the time, Ainsley and Koloane started Thupelo – the first Triangle workshop in Johannesburg – in 1985.
The workshop has since moved to Cape Town where it has been continuing on an annual basis. Researcher Rachel Bardham wrote:
‘’These artist-led workshops have created a space in which a series of empowering relationships are formed and developed between the international artists from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds, who wish to work within an environment that is outside the teaching framework of an art school and in which an exchange of ideas and friendship is encouraged’’ (‘It’s rude to interrupt when someone is speaking’, PhD thesis on africa95 and the Pamoja International Sculpture Workshop)
It was not until the end of apartheid that non-South Africans were able, or willing, to participate in the workshop. With this in mind, in 1988 Koloane, Ainsley and Robert Loder helped a group of artists in Zimbabwe to organise a Triangle workshop in Mutare called Pachipamwe, which in turn inspired participants from Botswana to return home and start Thapong in 1989.
The workshops made a considerable impact on artists’ communities in Southern Africa, creating unique regional connections and instigating more and more artist groups to appropriate the ‘workshop model’ and adapt it to suit their own situation. This, for instance, was the case with Mbile (now Insaka), a workshop started by artists in Zambia in 1993; Tulipamwe, started in Namibia in 1994, and many others that followed. As Bardhan wrote, the workshops provided:
… a much-needed creative environment and contact system for the artists, particularly those within Southern Africa, who often feel isolated from their regional colleagues, let alone the international art world (‘It’s rude to interrupt when someone is speaking’, PhD thesis on africa95 and the Pamoja International Sculpture Workshop)
As workshops continued to spread organically, instigated by artists who wanted to replicate the model in their own countries and communities, Robert Loder – together with Anna Kindersley, who started working with Triangle after her involvement in the workshop in Zimbabwe in 1992 – assisted with the development and fundraising for new workshops. Anna Kindersley was invited to help artists set up new workshops in Zambia (1993), Namibia (1994) Senegal (1994) and Pamoja, in the UK, on the occasion of africa95. Together they continued to support new workshops in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Mauritius and Egypt. Doing this ensured that the ethos and skills of the network were shared and transferred to local organisers, giving workshops a good grounding from which to continue to develop independently. Anna Kindersley and David Koloane were also invited by a group of artists in Delhi to assist with the development of Khoj, the first Triangle workshop in India, which was established in Modinagar in 1997. Khoj has since continued to move around the country to places like Calcutta and Goa and inspired the establishment of other workshops in South Asia, including Britto in Bangladesh, Theerta in Sri Lanka and VASL in Pakistan.
In parallel, artists in Australia, Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia were setting up Triangle workshops. Similarly, artists in several regions of the UK also created Triangle workshops: Shave Farm (Devon), Braziers (Oxfordshire), Cyfuniad (Wales and Liverpool) and the Three Island Workshops (Scottish Isles). These inspired international participants to replicate the model in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iran amongst other places.
Triangle workshops continue to take place and spread to new locations subject to funding and local initiative. Some take place annually while others are more sporadic or one-offs. In some cases they have been taken over by different groups of artists or have evolved into more permanent spaces. The organic and flexible nature of Triangle enables its size and activities to contract or expand in order to respond to an artistic community’s needs and focus, but also to adapt considerably according to available resources. It is this ability that has ensured that Triangle could continue to thrive and remain relevant to artists and arts professionals for the last four decades.
Triangle Spaces and further Knowledge Sharing
Over the years, some of the more regular workshops decided to establish long-term spaces where dialogue, exchange and art making could happen throughout the year. In 1990 Robert Loder and David Koloane launched the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, the first organisation to become part of Triangle Network. In the space, a diverse group of local artists had their own studios and shared a gallery to exhibit their work and that of other artists. The organisation’s position outside formal institutional or commercial structures encouraged artists to think more experimentally about exhibiting work, quickly becoming a place where the public could discover new talent and see challenging and innovative work. From the beginning, Bag Factory also offered residencies to artists from the region and abroad, building on the Triangle workshops’ ethos of functioning as a bridge between local and international artists; and fostering cultural exchange by combating the sense of isolation that artists and other arts professionals felt. Like the workshops, Bag Factory also provided an organisational model that could be replicated elsewhere. In fact, while it continues to evolve and thrive, it provided the model for new spaces like Gasworks, in London. Gasworks was established by Robert Loder in 1994 and is now the main hub of the Triangle Network. Its current programmes and ambitions were set up in the beginning by a group of Gasworks’ studio-holding artists. They built it as artists’ community that programmed exhibitions and residencies, which saw artists from Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world spending time in London, researching and making new work informed by the cultural resources in the city and the support of their peers.
Following these, new spaces were established across the Network, including Kuona Trust, in Nairobi (1994), Triangle La Friche, in Marseille (1996) Greatmore Studios in Cape Town (1999), Thapong Art Centre in Gaborone (1998), Contemporary Caribbean Art, in Port of Spain (2000), Khoj in Delhi (2002), Britto in Bangladesh (2006), VASL in Pakistani (2001), pARTage in Mauritius (2004) and many others. These new and mostly artist-led initiatives were modelled on the Bag Factory and Gasworks although, as in the case of the workshops, they were all independent from each other, quickly establishing their own unique identities and using Triangle Network as a means to learn from each other, share ideas and opportunities, apply for funding and co-develop exchanges such as residencies or exhibitions.
As Triangle continued to grow with new workshop spaces, several other organisations with similar aims and aspirations joined the network in mid-to-late 2000s to contribute to, and benefit from, the opportunities that Triangle offered. Examples include Capacete, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lugar a Dudas in Cali, Colombia, Kiosko in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Makan in Amman, Jordan. More recently URRA in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Pivo in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Njelele Art Station in Harare, Zimbabwe also joined Triangle.
The diverse range of partners, contexts and artists that form Triangle Network, make up a unique ‘ecosystem’ that responds to the needs of artists to establish their practices by learning from one another, but it also enables them to come into contact with researchers, curators, organisers and other professionals. Together they establish a rich infrastructure that relies on an informal and flexible approaches to challenge the ways in which contemporary art is conceived, produced and disseminated.
In support of this structure, Triangle Network developed a series of Knowledge and Skills Sharing consultancies and secondments, a continuous programme that ran for seven years until 2015. These encouraged organisers from one Triangle organisation to share their expertise with other partners by working together on specific organisational and curatorial issues. Unlike academic training, the programme encouraged ad-hoc mutual support over an intense period of time and responded to many partners’ requests for critical dialogue and curatorial input as a way of widening the debate on contemporary art and its various contributors throughout the world.
Triangle was, and continues to be, a group effort. Artist and Thupelo Coordinator Jill Trappler described the initial group of organisers including Anthony Caro, Robert Loder, Willard Boepple, Bill Ainslie, David Koloane, Karen Wilkin and Lionel Davis as the Acorn Planters. Their commitment, energy and enthusiasm inspired and involved thousands of artists, hundreds of organisers (in many cases themselves artists), curators, coordinators, writers, critics and the whole cultural scene that surrounds and also expands the ambition and scope of art making.
This, however would not have been possible without the help of many supporters: from local communities that have provided in-kind support, to dedicated local and international funders including Alliance Francais, Goethe Institute, Pro Helvetia and British Council, to Ford Foundation, HIVOS, DOEN and Prince Claus Fond. As the artistic, cultural and financial landscapes change, Triangle will continue to evolve while continuing to address the needs of arts professionals to find innovative ways to make work and communicate to their audiences. Finding new ways to respond to challenges and opportunities will enable the Network to stay relevant to new generations, making Triangle - just like the the content of so many of its programmes - a work in progress.
Alessio Antoniolli & Anna Kindersley, December 2017