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Sisyphe

Victor Pilon, 4D Art

For 12 days, 6 days a week and 6 hours a day, Canadian artist Victor Pilon will move tonnes of sand armed with nothing more than a simple shovel. The performance generates its own site-specific soundscape, featuring songs by Montreal-based band Dear Criminals. 


This marathon performance was inspired by French philosopher of the absurd Albert Camus’ well-known essay The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus sees Sisyphus’ punishment, made by the gods to push a heavy rock up against a steep mountain for all eternity, as a metaphor for human existence. In order to go on living, one has to accept that existence is absurd. In a physical, emotional and mental tour de force, Pilon invites the audience to witness his monotonous physical struggle and to reflect on the essence of existence. Pilon, influenced by major figures from performance art, like Marina Abramović, makes his presence the central object of action: his capacity for bearing fatigue and pain, while staying vulnerable at the same time.


‘The tragic death of my partner Sylvain brought me to this project. We all have to mourn the fact that life is absurd in order to arrive at a form of freedom, even happiness. As in the popular expression work work work, 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.’

- Victor Pilon

dates

<p>16 - 19, 21 - 28 June: weekdays 14:00 - 20:00, weekend 12:00 - 18:00</p>

Prices

  • default € 15
  • CJP/student/scholar € 11

language & duration

  • Language no problem

  • 6 hours

At this performance, we will organise a guided tour for Guardians and Benefactors. Join as a Friend of the Holland Festival and experience more!


Performance art is extremely intimate

interview with Victor Pilon

by Evelien Lindeboom


Inspired by Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Canadian artist Victor Pilon moves tons of sand from one place to another, with nothing more than a shovel, with no result to be achieved, in an absurd loop of labour. A conversation about his motivation to make this performance, and about the unforeseen effects of the work, that even surprised the artist himself.

At this performance, we will organise a guided tour for Guardians and Benefactors. Join as a Friend of the Holland Festival and experience more!


Performance art is extremely intimate

interview with Victor Pilon

by Evelien Lindeboom


Inspired by Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Canadian artist Victor Pilon moves tons of sand from one place to another, with nothing more than a shovel, with no result to be achieved, in an absurd loop of labour. A conversation about his motivation to make this performance, and about the unforeseen effects of the work, that even surprised the artist himself.

How did you get started as a visual artist?

‘After I finished college in Quebec at eighteen years old, I traveled through Europe where I was exposed to a lot of culture and decided to study fine arts. I specialized in photography, mostly because it seemed a practical choice. For sixteen years I photographed the British royal family whenever they came to Canada. This permitted me to make free art the rest of the year. When I moved to Montreal, I started working and collaborating with the performance artiste Michel Lemieux. I joined his company 4D Art. Together with him, I started making stage performances. We made avant-garde theatre and dance productions, and also worked with some big companies like Cirque du Soleil. We were always given carte blanche, our signature was very elaborate, visual, story based and non-conventional. For me making performance art now feels like going back to those roots.’

 

Can you tell me about the circumstances under which you made Sisyphe?

Sisyphe came out of a trilogy. The first part was a dance piece based on Orpheus, the second was the more theatrical Icarus. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology. I see it as the prehistory of philosophy. It helps us to make sense of our lives and to be better human beings. I always had an obsession for the myth Sisyphus. I was planning to do something involving the myth for a while when my partner of twenty years tragically died in a car accident. At sixty-three years old, I wondered: what is left to be said? It provoked me to make this performance. There is this quote by Einstein: "Our era is characterized by a profusion of meanings and a confusion of intentions.” The death of my partner provoked me to ask existential questions and it gave me the courage and strength to make Sisyphe.’

 

What was it about Albert Camus’ essay on Sisyphus[ee2]  that inspired you so?

‘We know Camus for his novels and his plays but not so much for his essays. This specific essay The Myth of Sisyphus was a revelation to me, it helped me to understand the absurdity of the death of my partner and it gave the anker, the philosophical base, to the performance I was working on.

 

Camus says Sisyphus is a metaphor for the human condition and that we have three choices when we search for the meaning of life: the first option is to – quite dramatically – say that life has no meaning, so we should commit suicide. Camus totally rejects this option.. The second option is to believe in dogma, in an afterlife, which means we don’t live for the here and now. The third option is accepting the absurdity and the absence of true meaning. This forces us to embrace life in the present moment. He uses Sisyphus to illustrate this. According to the myth, he his punishment for defying Zeus and deceiving death two times, he is condemned for eternity to push a boulder up a mountain only to have the bolder roll down again. Camus says: we must imagine him happy. He can find beauty in the repetition. Just like us, going about our daily routines, finding happiness in small things. For Camus: Sisyphus is the ultimate hero of the absurd.

 

You don’t use a boulder for your interpretation?

‘I said to myself: if the boulder he is pushing falls for eternity it will break into small pieces and ultimately becomes sand. And for me this mountain of sand is the bolder that I transport from A to B is equally repetitive and useless. It’s like an hourglass, nothing more than time passing. But I can still find creativity and pleasure within that repetition. It allows me to transform a tragedy into something creative and positive.’

 

What has changed in the project, and maybe also in you, since you started making it?

‘This project felt deeply personal, and vulnerable from the start. I’m an introvert so performing is difficult. But I had nothing to lose. In life we must surpass and challenge ourselves. I rehearsed for two years by myself, just shoveling. Because of Covid, I had a lot of time alone. This was also my physical training. I really lost myself in that period, like doing meditation. I was terrified of doing it in front of people though. So, at first, I thought I would just stay in my bubble, not making any eye contact during the performance. But as soon as I started looking at the people and feeling their presence, everything changed. I started to share the shovel and that gave the performance all its meaning. Because we can all identify ourselves to the myth of Sisyphus and these questions: what am I doing here? What is the purpose of my life?’

What made you decide to look at people and to share the shovel?

‘I had some friends over, and at one point I instinctively handed the shovel over to one of them. That person instantly started to cry; it became very emotional. I realized there is something special there, and that’s when I started doing it with strangers.’

 

How did the audience react to the performance, and to being included like that?

‘Some people wanted to take the shovel, some didn’t. The most intense moment I’ve experienced, was when I took back the shovel, I intentionally touched their hands, it became a very intimate moment. The reaction was very strong. There are no boundaries in performance art, only truth. You can’t hide behind anything, so it’s extremely intimate. Many people start crying. It can be an outlet to their grief. Not because they feel my pain, but because there is room for their own pain or grief, as well as for their happiness, their hopes, etcetera. Especially children and old people touched me a lot with their openness. Some even tried to stop me, or started helping me by digging with their hands. There was a woman that told me the mountain of sand represented the ‘shame’ she experienced in her life. The act of shoveling the sand and moving it, was liberating and therapeutic.’

Were you surprised?

‘I had not foreseen these effects of this performance. I thought it would be contemplative, an intellectual reflection on absurdity. But instead of the intellect, it was the heart that was being solicitated. I was totally surprised by that! When I saw this happen, it took away all my physical pain and gave me the energy I needed to continue.’

Tell me about the soundscape?

‘The soundscape is an important element of the performance; it helps me and the audience get in a more meditative state. On every half hour there’s a song by Dear Criminals; the favorite group of my late partner. There are five different songs unto which I do a short choreography, the shovel becomes a person, a weapon, a musical instrument. These are emotional, intimate and personal moments for me.’

How do you handle the physical and emotional challenges this performance entails?

‘Because there is no goal but transporting sand from one side to the other, you become creative within that repetition. It can become playful, I make ‘land art’. The biggest challenge is to be in the present moment for six hours at the time, non-stop. To be authentic. It’s scary to be so vulnerable, every day, six hour a day in front of an audience. The hardest times in Montreal, were some hours when I was alone. That’s also when I felt the physical pain and the true absurdity and struggle of Sisyphus. That’s when I started questioning what I was doing. But doing it without audience is also to experience the ultimate absurdity of this performance.’

Is it the creativity inside of the repetition that makes Sisyphus happy?

‘Yes. Totally! Camus tells us to grasp life and not to wait – to be creative and to see beauty in life, even if there’s no ultimate meaning in life.  And I believe that art can help us to find some meaning, to connect to oneself and to help us be better as human beings, to be more tolerant and openminded.’

 

How will the presentation in Amsterdam differ from the one you did in Montreal?

‘It’s going to be in the Westergas Transformatorhuis, which I find a very inspiring location. I am also very excited that at the same time, there will be a big exhibition on the work of Marina Abramović in Amsterdam, who I admire a lot. Some critics compared my work to hers: both are about the truth and the deep, universal connection between people. Even though in some of her performance she uses stillness and in my case I’m in action, in movement.’


‘My performance will be a bit shorter here, than it was in Canada, but other than that it will be similar. I am interested to see how the Dutch people will react to it. I know Europeans have more access to performance art, so maybe they are more experienced, maybe more critical? People in Montreal are generally very expressive, I’m curious and excited to see the response of the Dutch audience… I believe it can touch people regardless of their culture. When you do something that is from your heart and soul, there is a chance to reach other people’s hearts and souls – but, I never expect anything.’

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  • <p>Sisyphe</p>

    © Louis-Daniel Vallée

  • <p>Sisyphe</p>

    © Louis-Daniel Vallée

  • <p>Sisyphe</p>

    © Louis-Daniel Vallée

credits

concept Victor Pilon performance Victor Pilon creative collaboration Michel Lemieux producer Marian Tremblay music Dear Criminals, Marcin Bunar, Frannie Holder, Charles Lavoie, Vincent Legault sound design Marcin Bunar lighting design Alain Lortie acting & movement Michoue Sylvain costume design François St-Aubin hairdressing Sylvain Boisvert, Jimmy Macrylos creative assistant Jean-Frédéric Bergeron Poudrier light operator Jean-Frédéric Bergeron Poudrier sound technician Jean-Frédéric Bergeron Poudrier performance assistant François Bélisle business director Marian Tremblay administration Michel Maillochon confidential advisor Alain Lefebvre consultant Alain Lefebvre, François Bérubé promotional image April Hickox, Louis-Daniel Vallée, Jean-François Gratton technical director Marcin Bunar production 4D Art with the support of Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, Conseil des arts de Montréal thanks to François Bélisle, Don Doran, Sylvie Garbusky, Michel Lemieux, Alain Lefebvre, Louis-Daniel Vallée, Nathalie Bondil, Danielle DeBlois, Alain Girard, Michel Labrecque, Jimmy Macrylos, Sylvain Boisvert, Rébecca Boily Duguay, Serge Joyal, Sylvie Lacerte, Caroline Niquette, Steve Carbonne, April Hickox, Patrick Martel, Martin Laviolette, Lorraine Pintal