In the Retroactive series, artists were introduced to one another and given an open ended opportunity to respond to each other’s work through contemporary ideas and issues. The process is ‘retro’ in the initial reflection upon art and artists, and indeed becomes ‘active’ in the thinking, speaking and making process. The common visual art-making background between artists, yet at different points in their career, creates unbounded relationships where exchanges of elastic ideas can happen. Art making in Canberra occurs with a backdrop of rolling mountains, gum trees and kangaroos, between the book-ends of national institutions and Summernats. Conversations in Canberra are swept along in the fresh air and sparkling light of a town unlike any other. These conversations allow artists to engage in a sense of familiarity with one another. It is Canberra’s intimate scale that enables artists to get to know each other, their work and in turn to paddle with big ideas. The Retroactive exhibitions were about conversations between established artists and emerging artists. I selected the pairs of artists intuitively based on my knowledge of their work. Some artists that were paired together had not known each other previously on a personal level. The art became a vehicle for an ongoing visual dialogue between these artists; the content was through the initiative of the paired artists and their conversations that preceded the making. In the first Retroactive exhibition, established artists were asked to exhibit a significant piece from an early point in their career. The emerging artists were then asked to respond to this work and create a conversation piece with the established artist. In the second exhibition, Retroactive II, emerging and established artists were paired, however they each had to find an artwork they both responded to, in effect, finding an ‘absent hero’. The artists then worked collaboratively or separately to create artwork in response to this shared piece. The resulting works were displayed with a small reproduction of the inspirational artwork they were responding to. In Retroactive III, emerging and established artists were connected once more, however this time they were asked to find common ground in the form of a location, or place. This sense of place could be conceptual or actual. The artists initially worked from this place to create the resulting artworks, both collaborative and individual. From initial conversations, big ideas grew and mentorship has continued beyond the individual exhibitions .The results are stimulating and open ended, revealing material and conceptual links that cross five decades of Australian art making.
Julian Laffan, Curator of the Retroactive Series, 2010