What is the meaning of struggle? Is there inherent value in a seemingly never-ending task? Is Sisyphus happy? These are some simple enough questions that have orbited around the myth of Sisyphus and the creative endeavours that have dove into this captivating myth across history. And the latest to take up this burden is Montréal multidisciplinary artist Victor Pilon, who in his performance piece Sisyphus intends to spend the month heaving a massive pile of sand from one end of the Montréal Olympic Stadium to the other.
For those unfamiliar, the Greek myth of Sisyphus begins with the said former king of Ephyra cheating death on two accounts and ends endlessly with Sisyphus sentenced by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill evermore for his trickery. Every time he seemed to reach the top, the boulder would roll its way back down to the bottom. Thus did the myth of Sisyphus become a symbol of monotony, the rat race, and all seemingly pointless endeavours in the modern world, depicted in countless artworks and most famously explored in Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus.
Victor Pilon starts at a logical conclusion within Sisyphus’ eternal punishment. If every single day this boulder careens down a hill, inevitably, it will break apart—hence the choice of a sand pile to represent the task. In a conversation with CTV News Montréal, the artist focuses in on “the experience of the absurd” in Sisyphean tasks. With the performance consisting entirely of him strugglingly shovelling sand from one side of the Olympic Stadium to the other, he has placed a microphone in the shovel for audiences to hear his gruelling efforts, and also intends to offer the shovel to any others who would be “willing to become Sisyphus.”
A major influence on the decision for Pilon to take on Sisyphus is the recent death of his partner Sylvain, as he states through the project summary:
“The tragic death of my partner Sylvain led me to this project. We all have to mourn the fact that life is absurd in order to be able to arrive at a form of freedom, even happiness. As in the popular expression work work work, day after day, Sisyphus pushes his boulder to the top of a mountain, from where it always ends up coming down. This project is an effort to understand the eternal restart, to grasp the absurdity of existence, a desire for clarity, a quest for the why that dwells in all of us.”
In his deep dive into life, art, and grief with Sisyphus, Victor Pilon is evoking some of the true essences of existence. Through accepting and facing the absurd, we channel new meaning into our lives, into the actions we choose to take. There is an honest beauty in his choice to take on the role of the eternal struggler, supplanting punishment with a willful decision of completing this absurd task in a tangible rendition. If there was ever an artist one could say put their blood, sweat, and tears into their work, it would be Pilon.