Almost thirty years ago, Sir Anthony Caro and Robert Loder founded the first Triangle Artists’ Workshop at Mashomack Fish and Game Preserve in Pine Plains, New York. This initial event was inspired by Sir Caro’s previous experiences at a workshop he attended in 1977 at Emma Lake in the Canadian prairies, a site where the paradoxically isolated working environment was highly productive for the artists. The idea for the New York workshop was similar; bring together artists from different parts of the world for two intense weeks of art production in an uninterrupted and idyllic setting. This would create a space to focus on process, alleviate the pressure of production, and find collective inspiration outside the loneliness of the studio.
The first Triangle workshop was intended as a one-time getaway. It was a retreat to reinvigorate a group of artists who were somewhat familiar with one another’s work, and the name came from the three geographical points from where most of the artists were invited – New York, London and Edmonton. Yet, the initial workshop was so successful that it continued to evolve. The following year it was repeated, and invitations were sent outside the initial “triangle” to foreign artists from South Africa and France. By 1984 the roster grew to include Spanish and German artists as well, and as the workshops progressed they became increasingly international and diverse. In 1985 South African Triangle alumni David Koloane and Bill Ainslie set up the first affiliated workshop outside of New York, the Thupelo Art Projects in Johannesburg, South Africa. Two years later Europe hosted its first workshop, Triangle Barcelona, and throughout the past thirty years the network has continued to emerge organically throughout the five continents.
Now with more than thirty partners worldwide the network is one of the largest of its kind. Unified by an ethos and an idea, it is neither a school nor an institution but a fusion of independent locally driven initiatives responding to needs on the ground. Acting as a facilitator, the Triangle network offers the tools for creating local opportunities (exhibitions, art events, workshops, residencies, studios etc). Today the network continues to evolve in line with the precepts of the early workshops – “to question one’s own assumptions as well as those of others, and to open new avenues for growth” (1984 Triangle Artists’ Workshop Yearbook). Triangle is a sustainable enterprise founded on the premise of artists teaching artists through the creative process. Thus, the network was, and has always been, informally fueled by travelling artists bringing their experiences from abroad back home, in tangled multi-directional flows that challenge the boundaries of centre and periphery.
For Loder and Sir Caro, the workshop model was the foundation for bringing artists together, and they are a still a major component for many of the partner organizations. The effects of these workshops are often difficult to quantify, manifesting themselves abstractly through renewed artistic confidence, inspiration, and a cross-pollination of ideas long after the workshops have ended. Yet, in certain locations tangible opportunities have, nonetheless, evolved from the workshops through the opening of residency programs, galleries, artist run centres and studio spaces. Particularly on the African continent, the Triangle workshops and centres often provided the first seeds for a committed arts infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Triangle Network democratizes access to contemporary art. Despite the proliferation of global frameworks, the centres for transnational art remain virtually unchanged. The Triangle Network reverses this by dovetailing the global with local concerns, bringing an international environment to virtually any mobilized site. Although international practices are often represented by a limited constituency and a narrow definition of contemporary art, Triangle does not privilege any aesthetic, value, or market. Instead, it nurtures the heterogeneity of the artworld that is often overlooked. Its inclusiveness broadens the parameters of contemporary art by offering equal access to international dialogues, artists and working methods. This cacophony of practices naturally spurs debate and occasionally mistranslation, but does so in a way that furthers the conversation.
The Triangle Network is a unique model that is hard to classify and equally difficult to write about. It evolves alongside history but defies the archive. Continuously playing with the tensions of permanence and impermanence it maintains a powerful presence without becoming an institution. Finally, what makes Triangle so interesting is that in an age of globalization it is one of the rare universal models that continues to translate locally.