photo-icon From City of Adelaide Archives Collection

Pure genius

Cultural Heart


Posted on 10 Jan 2020

Until 21 February 2020, the Adelaide Town Hall is hosting a free art exhibition of works (including two guided tours) which celebrate the ‘genius of place’ - presenting different ways in which a place, particularly the city of Adelaide, can be understood when seen through the eyes of logic or creativity. Drawing its title from an ancient Roman theory often associated with our city’s original design planning, Genius loci is an intriguing collection of historic and contemporary art pieces, curated by City of Adelaide Curator, Olivia Kubiak, and presented in partnership with the City of Adelaide Archives.

“Adelaide’s identity and character is unique and multi-layered, and is shaped not only by the city’s physical layout, but also its architecture and landscaping. The idea of Genius loci, ‘the genius of the place, referring to the presiding deity or spirit’[i], is evident when we unpack the ways in which Adelaide has been envisioned, seen and understood throughout the city’s history.”
Olivia Kubiak, City of Adelaide Curator

When South Australia’s first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, designed the state’s capital he had a vision to create a city of the future: a city surrounded by nature, that could grow in a sustainable way, without cost to people’s wellbeing and quality of life.

Central to Light’s design was a grid-like plan of wide streets, terraces and public squares, but its brilliance was in hugging the city in a natural green embrace and, in so doing, creating the world’s only ‘city in a park’.

Light’s vision has been described as genius of place and plan, in the way the spirit of the city combines with the built urban form in order for people to live authentically and in balance with nature.

Visitors to the Genius loci exhibition will see a diverse selection of items from the City of Adelaide Archives collection - including reproductions of some of Light’s early maps - as well as contemporary works by South Australian artists Kate Little, Jesse Price, Barbara Hanrahan, Yvonne Boag, Hossein Valamanesh, Dee Jones, Keith Cowlam and Brad Darkson.

“Of the contemporary pieces, some echo Light’s ordered and measured approach to viewing the city,” said Olivia. “These include works by Kate Little - who has produced a series of geometric compositions that use a methodology involving mathematics, symmetry, repetition and chance; and those of Jesse Price, who explores the grid-like layout of Adelaide’s design in a circular form.

“Other works see the city through the eyes of a cultural flâneur or a fringe dweller – a person sitting on the fringes of society, simply observing. This way of seeing is depicted through the eyes of famous South Australian printmakers in the exhibition’s Visions of Adelaide series, commissioned by the City of Adelaide in 1988.”

The Genius loci exhibition can be found in both the foyer of the Adelaide Town Hall and the Reconciliation Room / Mankurri-api Kuu.

“The planning aspirations of a city are often linked to the relationship with the land, tying in with the spirit of place, or Genius loci. Adelaide lies on Kaurna land and significant sites within the city, including this Reconciliation Room, have been reconceptualised and renamed to acknowledge this. Mankurri-api Kuu, which means To speak friendly together – embraces the spirituality of the land and celebrates the talent of Aboriginal peoples.”
Olivia Kubiak

Olivia says the genius of place is particularly evident in the Reconciliation Room / Mankurri-api Kuu, where you will find works realised by applying a different cultural lens to an understanding of place.

“Brad Darkson’s triptych found object I, focuses on the cultural definitions of Aboriginal art as static ‘artefacts’ often framed in an anthropological context in public museums as opposed to the fine art of a contemporary living culture. In found object I, you can see a layering of paint and a sanding back to reveal what’s beneath, and this symbolises the processes undertaken when examining artefacts; such as excavation, elimination and – in hanging the works in Mankurri-api Kuu – the placement of objects within a cultural context.”

Brad darkson tryptych

Brad Darkson, found object 1, 2014, Masonite, timber, oil and acrylic paints (triptych)
Acquisition made through City of Adelaide Emerging Curator Program, 2018

The Genius loci exhibition can be enjoyed by all visitors to the Adelaide Town Hall during normal opening hours (see below) until 21 February. For those seeking a greater insight into the idea behind Genius loci, Olivia will be joining the two scheduled Adelaide Town Hall free tours on Monday 20 January and Monday 10 February, starting at 10 am. Bookings for the guided tours are essential and can be made online.

Adelaide Town Hall

128 King William Street, Adelaide
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm


Main feature images:

Left: Hossein Valamanesh, Visions of Adelaide, 1988, Lithograph

Centre: Colonel William Light, Hand-drawn coloured plan of City of Adelaide, SA, 1837, Watercolour (reproduction)

Right: Colonel William Light, Hand-drawn coloured map of coastline between Rapid Bay and the Port Estuary, SA, 1837, Watercolour (reproduction)

All part of the Collection of the City of Adelaide Archives

[i] Oxford Reference 2019

Article by

Skye Murtagh

Skye Murtagh

Skye is Adelaide Living's main driving force. She is passionate about sharing stories from all walks of life. When she's not busy weaving beautiful words together, she's singing a line or two from her favourite song.