Why do we become so engrossed in watching someone fail? Is it some pettiness inside of us? Or maybe we secretly admire the failure because we ourselves would never take on something that’s doomed to fail.
Claude Cattelain’s performance video of trying to sweep back the sea raises these questions and makes us rethink the value of effort and failure. On the surface, his task is too absurd to even be called Sisyphean. Sisyphus couldn’t see beyond the stone. Claude Cattelain can see the impossibility of his task right in front of him. But perhaps he chooses not to see it. He doesn’t look out at the sea when he’s sweeping. He looks down at his broom.
He works in one small area, not anxious about what’s going on around him. He gets knocked down and gets back up to work in that one small area. He’s not measuring his results. He doesn’t care if his effort is futile. He only cares that his effort is real. Push forward, lift up, push forward, lift up. It’s like breathing.
There’s the unrelenting sea, the sound of it crashing, the cold wetness, the force of the wave, the grip on the broom handle, the resistance as it’s pushed forward. There’s all this, but there’s no humiliating defeat, no lesson to be learned, no failure.