The River (1938) is a documentary film produced by the American Farm Security Administration depicting the importance of the Mississippi River to the United States. The film documents how farming and timber practices caused topsoil to be swept down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico, leading to catastrophic floods and impoverishing farmers.
In her essay “The Site of Memory,” Toni Morrison writes,
"they straightened out the Mississippi river in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. “Floods” is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. "
The film expands on Gardner's interest and ongoing research into the site of the Mississippi river as an early channel for the industrial revolution and the slavery industrial complex. Gardner focuses on the aquatic landscape of the Mississippi as a tool of oppression, exploring the formation of oppositional geography with particular attention to the shore as a site of transmutation. The shores of the Mississippi and its adjoining waterways have become sites of ceremony and spiritual practice where many Black people sought liberation.
Tia-Simone Gardner is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and Black feminist scholar. Working primarily with drawing, images, archives, and spaces, Gardner traces Blackness in landscapes, above and below the ground's surface. Ritual, disobedience, geography and geology are specters and recurring themes in her work. Gardner grew up in Fairfield, Alabama, across the street from Birmingham and learned to see landscape, capitalist extraction, and containment, through this place. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.