Project Description

Sisyphus’ vocation

A personal story on meaning and destiny


Chemical process. Prints on gelatin silver paper, toned with formulas of my own.

Sisyphus’ vocation

Nothing can dissuade me about the futility of my actions: all them led to the center of a spiral that takes the vitality of my body away, that shuts down the longings of my soul, and weakens the strength of my hands.

Nonetheless, each day I climb the heights pushing my dreams towards a peak that whenever it shows itself, if ever I can reach it, it would be after crossing a road of mirages.

There are times in which I stay asleep all day long. When I wake up I see the colors of dusk, and when I leave the drowsiness behind I realize that no dream visited me. There is no motivation to climb the mountain neither I visualize an action that comfort me.

Zeus has entrusted me to push a rock to the top without explaining to me the meaning of such decision. Perhaps that is myreal punishment: to ignore the purpose of my actions. I have come to think that the rock is the cluster of my projects, all what I once dreamed to do or to understand, and that the peak of the mountain is the place where my questions would beanswered. But not always my cavillations are so optimistic: most of the time I only think that I must use the remaining force to justify my existence.

Dreams overwhelm me. They grow excessively and take unexpected forms. Even if I do not understand them, I welcome them: I must have something to think about while I push the stone; for example, to imagine a future in which my strength persists long enough to create something useful or beautiful, and to leave it as a witness to my time in the world. Maybe it was that arrogant attitude that provoked my condemnation. Who am I, after all, to have such a vain thought? It seems that certain kind of mortals carry this ambiguous feeling of imagining themselves creators and knowing themselves limited. Zeus reminds me of it every day: “You asked to create: then create a day in which you take your rock to the top of your mountain.”

I must avoid being run over by my own stone and that the abyss swallowed me. Today I choose to advance step by step,nailing the heels on the slope with my back against the rock, doing the work that my arms once did. I can’t see the top. I will know if I would rest when I reach the plain, when the rock no longer offers resistance, and then, there I will sleep, caught between my dream and the earth, my body made a wedge.

The shadow of my body and the rock, melted into an oblique, dark spot, tells me that the day is about to end. The time isapproaching when I usually faint, letting gravity do its work. Zeus doesn’t like to be mocked, but he does like to be challenged. Before the sun goes down, I make my body a ball, a second rock that slows down every possible movement,and so we remain, flesh and stone, like an amalgam forged in the crucible of will, motionless, facing the eternity of onenight. Does it matter what happens at dawn? Will there be? Where will we wake up body and rock?

When the gloom was total, a lightning illuminated the hillside. I think Zeus smiled at the stubbornness of a mere mortal. None of his acolytes noticed the fact.

There is no valley or flat land in sight. An invisible force pushes me to fall on my back. Away, up, a conical horizon saysit wait for me. Today the light is dazzling and steamy. The ground and my feet are barely distinguishable, submerged inluminosity. I don’t see any shadows beside me. Plunged into an overwhelming silence, my muscles seem to scream as theyclimb the hillside. The rock seems to have been nailed to the ground. I don’t know why I don’t stop and give myself to theliberating fall, the last vertigo.

Surely my punishment is a consequence of pretending to deceive the gods. In his judgment, the mortals’ cleverness is areprehensible conduct. In my own name is written a nature that I cannot betray: se-sophos (very wise), although I knowwell that words do not confer qualities on the appointed. I would gladly accept the sanction if there were a divine logic,but here are antagonistic questions. In those cavillations I was while gathering forces to continue the ascent. Maybe I wasdistracted, or maybe it was an invisible hand (could it be an unknown deity?) that caused a minimal imbalance that madethe rock to roll downhill.

This is the outcome of every day, with despair making a knot in my throat as I run downhill behind the rock as if I couldstop it. But this sunset was different: to contain myself and to watch the rock sliced down had an appeasing effect. I don’tknow how long it took to stop until it became barely noticeable, a dark pebble in the dark night. For the night had come,and with it, the stipulated end of the effort. I got up in no hurry and started the descent.

Zeus and his Olympus and underworld acolytes chose an extravagant way for my condemnation. And the fact is that itrecently had a variant: every day I am presented with a different rock to climb a different mountain. I don’t know if theyintended to disorient, but if they wanted to, they didn’t make it. On the contrary, I count on the benefit of the unknown atthe end of each day, and the gratification of a surprise with the first lights of the day. Although surprises are not alwayscomforting, I am not in a position to agree on other possibilities.

Occasionally I have been assigned fully spherical, polished, smooth, slippery rocks, without a protrusion to fit my fingers. For the worse, they have a single point of contact with the terrain, and that makes them able to go in any direction in the slightest detour of my attention. Once the axis of rotation is chosen, all my effort should focus on maintaining a constant trajectory. The upward direction only endures until my doubts make me falter.

I must take it as a joke of fate: Hades, when not!, proposed a cubic rock whose height reaches my waist. I can’t push it with my arms up. The technique is to fit my fingers under one of its edges and from there pry to overcome the peak moment of balance, when it rests just on its edge. Intuition always warns me in advance whenever I must give up, when the force is not enough to make the turn. Every day I learn more about my weaknesses, which are many and different, as do my rocks and mountains.

I remember one day the rock assigned to me was pyramidal. Paradoxically, what cost me the most was to drag it horizontally to the base of the mountain, with my arms resting on one of their faces and pushing down. The hillside came to my aid, and the slightly inclined ramp compensated for my efforts to ascend. When the slope became surprisingly steep, I met new limitations, and discovered that there is a specific time to beat them. At that moment, reason replaces force. Surely that was not a favorable day for my intentions, and I just gave up. The strange spectacle of seeing the pyramid fall alternating their faces made up the work of taking it to the heights.

I’m learning to resist exhaustion. Today I knew when to stop persisting without abandoning the task. I see the sun hiding behind the top just a short walk away from being able to reach it, and yet I’ve decided to stop. But today the rock won’t fall. At this point in my journey I have anchored my legs and arms. I will stand still in this system formed by mountain, stone and man, three entities united under the gaze of the gods, and I suspect they must be sheltering a shadow of doubt about my behavior. Somehow, I find myself in a state of fullness and certainty. The fixed point, mistakenly considered static, is the dynamic core of how much exists. Night’s down. Not the rock.

I don’t know how or when I woke up, but I wake up with a new rock before me. I pay no attention to its form because today it is the mountain that claims my interest in its steep and rugged slope. I’ll have to get around a few breaks if I want to make it to the top. It’s the changes of direction that put me to the test the most. Only one was relatively comfortable and adapted to effort, when a point emerges where the forces must be attenuated and a turn taken that may well mean an advance in the opposite direction. It’s almost like a retraction from the road. And yet there must be a path in which to move forward. In one of those necks, the rock fell. I saw her peel off from a corner of my hesitations.

While I sleep at the end of the day, in Olympus the gods will surely be tasting ragweed and designing new mountains that I will have to ascend with my rocks. Each has their preferences, and someone with a particular wit proposed a hillside made of ice. I took it as an exercise in patience, letting each foot go a hole under the heat of the flesh. Looking back I see the steps that are decreasing in depth. My feet no longer melt: they are ice inside the ice, stagnant, making me part of the mountain. The cold goes up to my arms, paralyzing them. The teaching of the day: in that state of blockade, the rock did not fall. Cold, silence, stillness: from these conditions I will incubate my strength.

What rock will I push today? Will the punishment have been forgiven? I’m on the plain and the dawn lights are not enough to show the landscape. I had woken up early, toned and optimistic. And here I am, in darkness, hoping to use the energy accumulated during sleep. The light takes longer than usual to appear, at a very slow, exasperating pace. When the scene becomes visible, with my force weakened by the anxiety of waiting, I divide the rock into the lontananza, a dark spot on the horizon, where a diaphanous mountain awaits us. I wasn’t ready to just walk, but my rock calls me.

I discovered that there are eclipses that take a whole day, days plunged into a dense, impenetrable darkness. Apparently, Helios and Selene agreed to synchronize their journey, altering the course of the life cycle for an entire day. Still, my work must be done. I grope, I feel the rock that Perhaps Assigned Nix to me, and plunged into its darkness, I push it until the hillside begins to make me resistance. I lose notion of time and try to imagine that the summit is near. The night fills the landscape. The rock weighs more with each step. The dream suddenly arises, confronts me and overcomes me without much resistance on my part. The dream gods also play their part in this story. I don’t see the rock fall, but from my drowsiness I hear it rolling with a thunder that’s moving away.

I am almost certain that it was a dream: I had carried the rock high enough to feel confident that I would achieve my goal, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, I let it go, and without looking back I continued to climb the stretch that separated me from the summit. The hectic breath was no longer due to effort, but to expectation. Where am I supposed to take the rock? What would be so special about that place? What would be the privileged sight my eyes would receive? I had the feeling of having reached that turning point, and with that impression I stayed, contemplating my emotions, which didn’t really seem to be exalting. If I had to describe that state, I’d be short of words. I would say: it’s not this, it’s not that… And I wouldn’t conform to my expressions. It was better to try to keep alive the feeling, which felt fade as a mirage as one approach to it. If it was a dream, forgetfulness took care of erasing it. If it was reality, all my life I’ve been asleep.

How do I know if I reached any peaks? In the face of such an absurd situation that I face every day, how could I realize that I reached the summit, and having fallen asleep after the effort or by Zeus’ own will, the rock would have rolled to the other side of the mountain, thus fulfilling my goal, if that were so? Since then I have been accused of the idea that one day I will overcome the mountain at the end of the day, and that at dawn it will be another height that challenges me. Will I be facing a mountain range whose end I will never know?

I’m allowed to sleep for a few hours, but there are few nights when I find it quiet. Sometimes sleep is impossible, and when I finally fall asleep, dreams are repetitive. Have the three main Oniros been colluded to interfere with my rest? Then I remembered that these gods (Morpheus, Fobetor, and Fantasus) were responsible for producing dreams in kings, but not in mortals like me. Fantaso was responsible for inducing dreams in which inanimate elements of nature appeared, including rocks and other geographical accidents. I suspect other Fantaso-like Oniros are standing for me to win Zeus’ favors. They flap their dark wings on my exhausted body as a variety of images of rocks and mountains parade before my closed eyes, until Helios announces a new journey peeking out with its rays its luminosity over the horizon of my consciousness. Then I understand that after all, insomnia is not so bad: even if I cannot sleep, at least I am aware of this desperation that strains me like the rope of a bow. It’s that tension that triggers ideas like arrows. She’s the one who makes the rock move.

Not all my awakenings are auspicious. Opening my eyes and seeing a rock cropped against a grey sky omens that I will be alone: my shadow will not keep me company during the ascent. That’s why the days when Eos opens the gates of heaven with its colorful veil, my muscles warm faster. As I walk towards the rock, I contemplate the pink and yellow hues that grow behind the mountain. The presence of Eos is as beautiful as it is fleeting: the cart of Helios floods the sky with bright and blinding light. I prefer the subtle touch of the aurora or the sunset to the overwhelming zenithal glitters. Those of us pushing rocks do not need invasive reflexes that disturb our concentration. Sometimes the comfort that alleviates my frustration is seeing Hésperis unfolding the reddish robe that heralds the end of the day. She and Selene are the ones who grant me the grace to know that even after my gross duties, I retain the appreciation of beauty and the will to reach the goal.

Achieving the goal: the phrase resonates in my mind. Pain doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matter how tall I am or what kind of mountain I’m on, either. I’m only interested in finding and learning the best way to handle this way, and this redundancy in expressing myself is intentional. I am knowing new ways of placing my hands, of supporting my legs, of distributing the strength, of maintaining the balance, of coordinating movements, of alternating use of muscles, of tightening the body, of breathing, of resting in full effort, of choosing the moment of action or stillness, of letting the stone push me back and then regaining strength and gaining ground and gaining ground , to feel that the rock and I were the same entity from the beginning. I’m understanding why the ground gives way or gives me resistance, how the slope opposes or collaborates. At each step my experience grows about surfaces and textures, contours, rounds, protrusions and depths, hardness and softness. Achieving the goal… does it matter?

Walking uphill makes one wary of the next step, contrary to the hasty descent where walking becomes a dizzying pace that prevents spinning thoughts. I climb the mountain like a trance, staring at the nearest top. A slope on the ground makes me disrupt, and then I feel like I’m not pushing my rock. Turning the view, I find her down, like a dog waiting for her owner. What out of my mind, to begin the rise in an almost hypnotic state? Will it be the first ad for dementia that haunts me as I get older? The descent to the slopes, gasping, makes me notice that in reality I am the dog running mad to meet my master, the rock motionless, impassive. There’s no other option to follow your demand: drive it to the top. There may be a reward, after all. As we go up together, I think again about the recent forgetfulness. Maybe the prize is to get your memory back. Or at least sanity.

Although I couldn’t see him directly, today Eolo introduced himself to me. Whirlwinds of dust and earth clouded my eyes as I pushed the rock, and when that wasn’t enough, the god added his strength to the rock by pushing me back several steps. Following capricious and unexpected behavior, I suddenly felt his arms pushing alongside mine, until I regained the lost stretch. Just as he came, he disappeared. The abrupt change of circumstances left me some latent questions, while regaining momentum: what is the true human strength when the gods withdraw, when they do not object to obstacles or favor us with their grace? Who would be willing to assume that neutral point, that moment of divine indifference? How many would want to accept the lucidity that would make us feel like our destiny?

The voice resonated in my head. Somehow the sound was confined between imagination and doubt, but that’s why it was real. What the voice dictated was that the rock was in front of my eyes, even though the scene only presented a homogeneous and desolate landscape. That’s the rock you’re going to have to haul by bypassing the mountain in front of you, it said. There was no mountain in sight, and yet rock and peak were presented in a way that eluded my senses. That’s where I stopped. Open eyes that did not focus on a specific point, muscles ready for when stone and hillside materialized. It happened unexpectedly: for an instant I felt a weight holding my arms while the ground had been reduced to a small flat space where only my feet could fit. Around, the slope invited the descent.

Zeus and his ministers were right in the way to instruct me. He and his entourage of gods and half-gods, all fallible, egomaniac, irascible, illogical, absurd and tenacious, almost human, taught me that the man-rock-mountain triad is in itself a school where learning is always halfway between heaven and earth.

Lessons permeate the air, circulate freely between light and darkness. I am simply a part of that landscape, and one only stops learning if one abandons it.

It’s dawning. I know there are rocks and mountains waiting somewhere. That’s enough for me to start the march. With every step I take, I question whether life is an absurd avatar. And even if there are few things that I make sense of, what sense would it make to try to resist the vocation that was intended for me?