For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence in Four Parts)

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For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence in Four Parts)
Providence Canyon, considered to be one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia,” formed in under 100 years as a result of soil erosion. “Gullies are the region’s receipts for the ‘bargains’ the system got out of virgin soil, slavery, and farm tenancy combined.” -Arthur Raper, 1937

For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence I), 2019
looping 16mm film, color, b/w excerpt from Robert Flaherty’s 1942 The Land, 1937 WPA erosion file on Stewart County, Georgia (photographs by Arthur Rothstein)
TRT 3:30

For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence II), 2019
porcelain, red clay soil from the Webb family plantation, Thomas Jefferson Flanagan’s 1940 The Canyons at Providence (The Lay of the Clay Minstrel), display case
98” x 22.25” x 40”

For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence III), 2019
red clay soil print on cotton paper, pine frame, 1937 WPA erosion file on Stewart County, Georgia (photographs by Arthur Rothstein), 33” x 40”

For the Mud Holds What History Refuses (Providence IV), 2019
sound, excerpt from 1973 interview with Thomas Jefferson Flanagan, David Roberts Oral History Collection, TRT 3:10

Webb examines the complex natural and human histories of Providence Canyon, a geological formation in Western Georgia. Providence Canyon, considered to be one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia,” formed in under 100 years as a result of soil erosion–a direct effect of slavery, the plantation economy and the cotton boom. In For the Mud Holds what History Refuses (Providence in Four Parts), a looping 16mm film, a series of 10 porcelain sculptures, sound, and printmaking poetically converge to both illuminate and collapse social and natural boundaries.

During the 1930s, Providence Canyon became a subject of the WPA’s photographic file on erosion as well as a conservation site as part of an effort to promote Southern tourism. The very human history of the landscape was obscured in favor of the “natural.” Webb’s looping 16mm film piece is an evocative montage that includes these WPA photographs, an excerpt from Robert Flaherty’s 1942 The Land, and contemporary footage she shot at Providence Canyon. Webb implicates her own family’s land practices in the overlay screen print of photographs from the WPA’s erosion file, pigmented by red clay soil she harvested from her family’s former plantation land in Eastern Alabama.

The porcelain and audio pieces complicate Providence Canyon’s History by using as source material the archives of Thomas Jefferson Flanagan, an African American resident of Stewart County who presented a much more ambivalent view of Providence Canyon than many of his contemporaries. Here rendered in porcelain, his 1940 epic poem “The Canyons at Providence: The Lay of the Clay Minstrel,” describes the simultaneous beauty and tragedy of this place. On the headphones, an excerpt from an audio interview with Flanagan from 1973 coupled with Webb’s narration about the rare plant life that grows in the Canyon point to the racial dynamics of the place. Through a multilayered installation, Webb presents a nuanced history of place and unearths the social layers that make up a landscape.

“Gullies are the region’s receipts for the ‘bargains’ the system got out of virgin soil, slavery, and farm tenancy combined.” -Arthur Raper, 1937

View video documentation of the installation below