On "Triangle" by Sanja Iveković

Juliet Jacques considers the changing meaning of a seminal work of performance art.

The action takes place on the day of the President Tito’s visit to the city, and it develops as intercommunication between three persons:

  1. A person on the roof of a tall building across the street of my apartment;
  2. Myself, on the balcony;
  3. A policeman in the street in front of the house.

Due to the cement construction of the balcony, only the person on the roof can actually see me and follow the action. My assumption is that this person has binoculars and a walkie-talkie apparatus. I notice that the policeman in the street also has a walkie-talkie. The action begins when I walk out on the balcony and sit on a chair. I sip whiskey, read a book and make gestures as if I perform masturbation. After a period of time the policeman rings my doorbell and orders that ‘the persons and objects are to be removed from the balcony’.

*

So runs the final English-language text that accompanies Sanja Iveković’s Triangle, first performed on 10 May 1979 when President Tito’s parade passed the artist’s apartment in Zagreb, and then turned into an installation consisting of four photographs and this explanatory note. It is considered in detail by Ruth Noack, Head of Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, in Triangle, the latest entry in Afterall Books’ One Work series.

Noack places Triangle within the political and artistic context of 1970s Yugoslavia, assessing the changing relationship between its form and content, and asking how its ‘canonisation’ turned it from a private act into public art. Well known in Croatia for the explorations of identity and ideology in her performances, videos and photomontages, Anglo-American audiences and critics are slowly discovering Iveković: her first UK solo exhibition, Unknown Heroine, took place at Calvert 22 and the South London Gallery just last year. Aware of potential dehistoricisation if Triangle is read primarily on aesthetic terms, Noack avoids efforts to integrate Iveković’s local avant-garde into the 21st century art world, instead trying to understand Triangle’s statement through analysis of its structure.

Noack had a personal role in Triangle’s transition from performance art piece to gallery installation. Co-curating at Documenta 12 in 2007, Noack dispersed the four photographs – of Iveković on her balcony, the apartment block, Tito’s parade and the people on the street, beneath the Yugoslav flag – across a display board. The next day, Iveković asked that it be re-hung, with the image of her on the right and the others on the left, with the text, framed, next to them. Noack is particularly interesting on the instability of Triangle’s documentation, and Iveković’s need to fix it as a work in its own right. On its first display in December 1980 in Zagreb, the image of the late Tito was missing: sure that the gallery director removed it, Iveković told Noack that ‘Self-censorship was the most powerful institution in our socialism’.

The directness of Triangle’s symbolism, exposing how thoroughly the state sought to maintain ‘visual order’ at mass spectacles even in private spaces, sprang from her concern that the artistic language of the late 1960s was too difficult and too detached to successfully democratise Yugoslav art. Although not a formal movement, several individuals and groups who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s were critically united under the New Art Practice banner. Dušan Makavejev’s short film Parade (1962) concentrated on the preparations for the Mayday event in Belgrade and the crowd’s irreverent disinterest, and was soon censored; in 1968, just before the student protests in the capital, an artist-activist group in Split painted their own red square in Split, attempting to take control of socialist iconography back from the government.

Aware that these bold, simple gestures had a profound effect on Iveković, who was studying in Zagreb at the time, Noack opens with a quote from the artist, who said that ‘those who were active on the counter-cultural scene at the time took the socialist project far more seriously than the cynical ruling elite’. Iveković’s grasp of power structures, and of the gap between the state’s rhetoric and its implementation, were fundamental to her art. Feminist criticism didn’t exist in Yugoslavia, partly because officially, women were central to its socialism: not taking its ideological lead from Moscow, the country had advanced abortion policies, social security, childcare and paid maternity leave. However, concerns about unpaid reproductive labour, domestic violence and the sexism of the growing advertising industry were seldom discussed, as the workplace took priority over the home, and the gender balance of these spaces remained relatively unchanged.

Developing Iveković’s concern with the place of women in Tito’s Yugoslavia, Triangle explored various power dynamics simultaneously, contrasting the public male politician with the private female artist, the former demanding the adulation of his citizens, the latter alone, nonchalantly reading T. B. Bottomore’s Elites and Society.  It was this ability to explore a number of ‘social relations and subject formations’ at once, suggests Noack, which makes Iveković’s work stand above that of her contemporaries, with Triangle’s strength lying in the clarity of the question it asked: Would you rather watch the old leader for the umpteenth time or a young artist masturbating?

Iveković’s concern with who was watching was vital. The whole point was that the original performance could only have had a very small audience, possibly just one, and that this viewer was sufficiently affronted to report her behaviour to the authorities – although Noack says that nothing in the presented evidence conclusively proves that the chain of events actually happened. Noack refuses to get too mired in this possibility, however, aware that it is more interesting to ask how Iveković simultaneously removed herself from and inserted herself into the spectacle, and how the size and type of her audience changed over time.

Perhaps strangely, Noack makes no mention of Iveković’s repeat on 15 October 2005, for the visit of George W. Bush, attempting unsuccessfully to inform the Croatian President, Parliament and Ministry of Foreign Affairs before she did so, and apparently producing the same outcome despite the shift in official ideology. Nonetheless, Noack makes a convincing case for the original performance and installation of Triangle as a landmark post-war work: it may not have been the foundation of a movement, but it was an intelligent, utterly original piece that continued to ask searching questions about the relationship between politics and art long after it was first performed and recorded.

"Triangle," 1979. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Juliet Jacques is a freelance journalist and writer who covers gender, sexuality, literature, film, art and football. Her writing can be found on her blog at and she can be contacted on Twitter @julietjacques.

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.