Near the top of McLaren Vale’s main drag is a squat little building painted in vivid blocks of pink, orange and blue. It was once a bank, then a day spa, and in the past year Good Bank Gallery has been doing its bit to inject some colour and chaos into one of the big thoroughfares of southern Adelaide wine country.
But it is natural greens and browns that surround Brad Darkson as he tends to a small fire among the winter weeds out the back, wearing a T-shirt that bears an invitation to “tread lightly”.
“I try and get here as much as possible,” Darkson explains as he prods at some kindling.
“I was working mostly out of home, which wasn’t sustainable with a young one. My kid’s four years old now; he’s got a lot of energy and loves to help and get involved with stuff… but it’s amazing to be able to walk away from it and know no little hands are going to touch it,” he laughs.
The small room Darkson occupies out the back of Good Bank is currently set up with guitar pedals and audio mixing gear, but he keeps materials and tools for wood carving and other projects close to hand.
“I’m not really a specialised artist in a way,” he says. “A lot of my work at the moment is actually going to be more sound-based, and I’ve made a fair bit of work that’s had sound elements to it. But I do like to move around a bit with what I’m doing and what mediums I like to use.
“It’s been pretty amazing to come into a space and be around people who are not only in the same boat but just around a different environment, you know? It’s really nice to be able to come out the back here and get a fire going, and show people through, to have that space. It’s been pretty good for my productivity.”
Darkson’s work often explores the intersection of colonisation and Country in South Australia, drawing on his Narungga, Ngarrindjeri and settler ancestry to reflect on the weight of history found in Adelaide’s institutions. One recent work, UNCEDED LAND, saw him create a live soundscape at the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Elder Wing, remixing a Welcome to Country spoken in Kaurna by Ngarrindjeri woman Kira Yaltu Bain into a “cacophony of phonetics”.
“There’s a lot of dark history in a lot of those buildings, the museum, those big archives and storage facilities,” he says of the North Terrace cultural precinct along the Karrawirra Parri / River Torrens. “And a lot of community feel a lot of heartache towards that area.
“There are so many significant sites along that river in town, you know, Karrawirra Parri is a big ceremony place, a significant place, that’s where the cultural precinct is, where a lot of those atrocities happened. That’s where stone was mined and used to build the church on North Terrace.
“For a lot of people that work in that space, they talk about how conflicted they are about being there, there’s a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have happened in there, and you feel that in those spaces.”
For his latest collaboration, the Guildhouse “Voice of the Artist” public art commission, he has worked with Kaurna elder Aunty Lynette Crocker to develop a placemaking piece that draws the architecture of the Lion Arts Precinct, and the wider cultural precinct, back to the Country it’s built on. “The callout was that this [project] was going to be a beacon of truth,” he explains.
While the final work is still under wraps, Darkson says it will be inspired by neon “No Vacancy” signs, and the re-vegetation work Aunty Lynette has been undertaking around Kaurna Yarta.
“She’s been involved in a lot of work around Willawilla / Brownhill Creek, there’s a shelter tree there and they’ve been doing a lot of re-veg, weeding, rehabilitation in the creek, and Aunty Lynette’s got a little ngampa patch that she’s planted, the yam daisy.”
The intersection of nature and culture is important to Darkson; among his many other projects is Moonrise Seaweed Co, a regenerative seaweed start-up co-founded with his partner, Chloe.
From native seaweed to the ngampa tended by Aunty Lynette at Willawilla, these plants hold an important value that is both practical and symbolic, which Darkson hopes to incorporate into the Lion Arts site.
“The idea around it [ngampa] is that it’s a perennial, so it’s in the ground and it comes back year round, and it’s tended to year round in a specific way. It’s not killed, it’s not harmed, you can harvest from it while still leaving it to thrive for the next year. It’s a staple Kaurna food source. [We’re] looking at how it is in the land, and how a lot of those native seeds are just there, waiting for the chance to regrow.”
It’s a sentiment that speaks to the holistic way Darkson approaches his many different mediums and projects; that art, nature, history and justice are all interwoven — a fire in the backyard, just waiting to be lit.
You can read more about Brad Darkson’s arts practice on his website.
In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.