At the time of writing, Emily Crane was a PhD student at the University of East Anglia. Her PhD focuses on the contemporary artist exchanges within the Triangle Network, with specific focus on Africa and South Asia and is entitled Navigating the void: The Triangle Network of artist-led initiatives. Crane has become a contributor to the Triangle blog. In her third blog post Crane explores the idea of archival images in relation to the Triangle archive:
What is in an archival image?
Continuing my exploration of the archive at Gasworks, I have been looking at visual materials relating to the workshops. These events, which have brought together so many diverse artists and created the Triangle Network, are unique, always different and dependent to so many variables. Despite the workshops being notoriously ephemeral and hard to document, there are a significant number of photographs and videos that capture some of the artists, artworks and locations. This visual material reveals the faces and artworks of the artists involved in organising the projects, bringing the role call of names and places alive in the faces and moments captured. One can see friendships forming through images of artists talking, laughing, hugging and working together. The photographs also give a strong sense of the work produced during the workshop, in all its rawness and diversity. My favorite images are those of the working spaces that often reveal how the artist is working with the materials at hand, and the intensity of concentration and focus. If one has never been to a workshop, the images hint at what the experience might feel like; the various set ups, locations, artists and how these elements interact.
Those images that are labelled with the names of the artists are of course the most useful for researchers. Being able to know the names of the artists are grouped together in the photographs, and to had an idea of where and when the photograph was taken, brings a realness to the stories I have heard about the workshops and the network. The tricky concept of a network and the unique phenomenon of the workshop is hard to really understand without these images to help illustrate and confirm the ephemeral, diverse and complex reality. There is also the quiet 'reading' of images that operates alongside and in someway beyond any text or dialogue.
Of course photographs do not capture the details of the conversations and debates that occurred in the workshop, and certainly without any accompanying information the images are limited. Again thinking about the potentiality and usefulness of an archive, and drawing on a previous interest in photographic archives, I have been considering how they might or might not be useful in the future. There are images I believe to be important records of the phenomenal impact the Triangle Network of workshops has had on regional art scenes, images that capture important artists now recognised regionally and globally. For example, an image of David Kolane, Sam Nlengethwa, and Pat Mautloa relaxed in conversation at the Bag Factory in 1994 captures a pivotal moment in the art history and institutional history of contemporary art in South Africa, by physically documenting the relationships between these artists and the space provided by Bag Factory for the development of their work and friendships. Similar images can be found of the artist working group for the first Khoj workshop meeting in Delhi and their site visit to Modinagar with Robert Loder and Anna Kindersley. The reputation and legacy of some of the workshops cannot be denied, both in Art History and Curatorial Studies, which suggests that these images are important to conserve, document and keep. Triangle is so unique, especially given its thirty year history, international scope, and long list of famous artist names that have been intimately involved in setting up and participating in the workshops and subsequent network. It is always difficult to know how the archive might be used in the future, but it is my belief that it is important to give future art historians,curators, artists and writers the potential opportunity to access this unusual material.
On a recent visit to Zambia I showed some of the photographs, those of the early Mbile workshops, to some of the artists I met. There was a genuine interest in seeing some of the now senior artists fresh-faced and working on various ambitious projects. Although during the early workshop there was little drive for archiving, younger artists are now realising the importance of creating their own art histories through gathering resources that speak of the experiences of artists in their country and region over the last four decades. Although in Zambia there is still a shortage of art writers, historians, archivists and museum professionals, let alone the economy that might support these functions, there is a genuine attempt to grow the understanding of contemporary art and the knowledge of modern artists of the generation before. William Miko describes this as, 'correcting the national anomaly' and his BA course in Art History through the Open University is starting to produce graduates who are actively engaged in these archival and art historical issues. It seems important to me that artists are aware of their local modern art histories so that they are able to reflect and take stock of where their work is situate and what it responds to or builds on. Within this context, Miko and others have stressed the importance of the workshop in its capacity to bring artists together and generate new thinking and interest in the visual arts in Zambia. A new resource center is being set up in Livingstone that aims to provide more resources for research into, and writing about, art in Zambia and beyond. It is hoped that the newly digitalised image of the easily workshops will be accessible to younger artists and art writers, as part of a developing story about modern and contemporary art in Zambia. I see no reason by other parts of the archive, and other photographs can also be harnessed in the growing recognition of the impact of the workshops and how they relate to certain moments in different places throughout the world.