An Exercise in the Impossible (After Manuel Arechiga) by Artemisa Clark


On May 16, 1959, Manuel Arechiga was photographed sweeping the “porch” of the tent he shared with his wife, Abrana, for a total of 10 days, or 14,400 minutes. This tent was built over the ruins of their family’s house and the houses of the hundreds of Mexican-American residents of Chavez Ravine, a community whose homes were demolished—initially with the promise of better, affordable housing—and ultimately sold for $1 to make way for Dodger Stadium.

An Exercise in the Impossible (After Manuel Arechiga) is a 144 minute performance in which I re-enact the main action in this photograph on one of the few remaining slivers of Chavez Ravine that is not paved over or gated. My Mexican-American, female body re-appropriates a tool (broom) and act (sweeping), both of which have traditionally been used to define the role of the Mexican-American woman in American culture, in order to, for at least a few moments, reclaim a small part of land on which this often forgotten or disregarded history took place.

This repetitive attempt at the impossible (the sweeping of a hillside), executed in the present and informed by the past, creates an ephemeral mark in the land that simultaneously leaves something for the (near) future and, in its creation, excavates a more contemporary past, unveiling objects such as plastic forks, cigarette butts and small pieces of metal piping. This one action intersects multiple timelines—historical, present/personal, and future—and will ultimately be taken back by the land, leaving little to no evidence of its occurrence.