Rebecca’s River

One of the digital installations in the new Boola Katitjin building features an HD video created by WA photographer Rebecca Dagnall. With a length of 60 minutes, The River depicts a mystical aquatic journey. Time to find out a little more…

What were your initial thoughts when you received the brief?

I thought what a great idea to commission artworks as part of an overall digital engagement initiative. The brief allowed artists to create a work for a very specific purpose. The underlying idea was storytelling as a way to connect and share ideas. As an artist, I find the notion of storytelling an integral part of my creative process, so it immediately sparked my interest.

What aspects of the commission appealed to you?

The commission brief asked for slow tv work that would be relaxing for people to watch. The idea of creating an hour-long video work was appealing. My idea to create a video work around canoeing the Canning River that crossed over into an imaginary world fitted the brief perfectly.

How did your concept of The River emerge and materialise?

The idea for The River has been brewing for quite some time in that I see the work as an extension of my 2009 photographic series, Paradise in Suburbia. In the series, there was an image of a canoe on the river that was the beginning of this story. The work was personal, but also connected to a wider audience in that it was a story about a father and child, about memory, learning, shared experience and place.

When I was a child, my father would take me canoeing on a branch of the Canning River. I loved it when the canoe was finally in and off we would go, to the sound of the ores moving through the water. There was a quiet sense of achievement and immense satisfaction as the river held us.


Such a simple task is not so simple when you are a child and your father has MS. Before we left home, Mum would help slide the canoe onto the roof rack of the old VW Beetle. Dad and I would then drive to the river and wait. When someone pulled into the dusty carpark, Dad would ask for assistance getting the canoe off the car and into the water. If no one came, we would go home again.

When my father passed away in 2007, I wanted to make an artwork every year that evidenced him and his being here. I did for the first few years and then I didn’t. In many ways, it is difficult to explain all the ways that made this story of my father and I canoeing so perfect for this commission, but when I saw the brief, I knew exactly what I wanted to create.

There were small things; like the building is all about learning, and my father was a huge part of my experience of learning in so many ways. He loved nature. We spent many hours bushwalking or bird watching, or canoeing on our local river. My father was also a lecturer at a university, and I am now a lecturer at a university. Education was a big part of my dad’s ethos, and the proposed ‘centre for learning’ building seemed perfect to house a work about him. His belief in education rubbed off on all of us, including my mother, who went to university as a mature-aged student long after they were married and emigrated to Australia. My father and mother were the first people in our family to be university educated.

This work has been with me, somehow growing and developing for years. Since 2009, I have wanted to make a video work centred around my childhood experience with Dad canoeing on the Canning River. The experience taught me patience and resilience, how to ask for assistance, how to be comfortable in silence. It taught me how to overcome adversity and how to be in the world. All this doesn’t necessarily translate in the work, but they are the reasons to make the work. When ideas stay with you like this, they need to materialise.

Is there anything you would like to say about the work or the process of its creation?

I really enjoyed the process of making The River. As I have been working mainly with photography for quite some time now, it was great to get back to some video work. This piece challenged me in a number of ways. Given that it’s been some time since I filmed or edited work, I needed a team (VAM media) to work with. When I’m working with stills, I work very differently. It’s often a solo experience relying on my own knowledge and creating work in my own time.  Working with a team was difficult as things needed to happen on specific days and be organised well into the future. When I’m on my own, I can cancel at any time, it’s somehow more containable and controlled.

Working with a team, you are allowing for more variables. But there is something fabulous about teamwork too. I didn’t have to organise anything for example. The producer Brendan Hutchens at VAM media had that job. Although it was stressful thinking about what the weather may or not do on our scheduled filming days, it was ultimately not my responsibility to reschedule and re-book everything if needed.

The most exciting part of the process was the editing. Working with Steve Alyian was the best. He knew exactly how to create everything I wanted to make happen in the work and we had fun doing it. So much so that we will be making new work as a collaborative team. I’m very much looking forward to making more video work.


Rebecca DAGNALL, The River, 2022. Single channel HD video with sound, 59:17 minutes, edition 1 of 5. Commissioned for Boola Katitjin 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

Posted on:

18 Apr 2023

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