On Track is an intriguing and intelligent crossover between theatre and performance art
A gallery space with assorted artworks: chainsaw, feathered headdress, a map of the world. The words “Kristien De Proost, 2015” on the back wall in bold capital letters. They relate both to the exhibitor and the exhibited – in the centre of the room is De Proost, running steadily on a treadmill. She doesn’t stop running for the duration of On Track, a deeply confessional yet distanced monologue about objectivity, objectification and the impossibility of self-knowledge.
De Proost starts by telling us facts about her body. She examines herself in minute detail, from the colour of her teeth to the thickness of her toenails. Her statements are short, blunt, inescapably factual. When she moves on to describing her personality, her likes and dislikes and her deepest desires, the facts are much less verifiable. We trust that she is telling the truth – why wouldn’t she? But there is always the lingering question of validity: no matter how genuine we wish to be, is it ever possible to describe oneself in such excruciatingly honest and objective terms? De Proost appears to know exactly what she is as well as what she isn’t; yet can we ever really be certain of this?
One can’t help but be put in mind of Rousseau’s amour propre, or ‘self-love’, seeing oneself through the eyes of others proudly and with vanity. For Rousseau, once humanity reaches this point there is no turning back – we morph into needy and self-obsessed beings. Is On Track, essentially a performance art self-portrait, an affront to this idea, or its ultimate support? That no answer is forthcoming is not a bad thing – De Proost poses these questions and, like every great artist, allows us to decide for ourselves.
If this sounds like a cold experience, it isn’t: De Proost is genial company and there are moments of great humour here, especially in the occasional musical interludes. Her performance is near faultless. She holds nothing back both in terms of what she says and, of course, what she does – you often forget that she is constantly in motion, running ever onwards yet going nowhere. Only when the gallery attendant – played by De Proost’s father – gives her water, a towel and so on, do we realise the scale of her physical accomplishment. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that, for the first half an hour at least, she never even seems to break into a sweat.
On Track is an intriguing and intelligent crossover between theatre and performance art. It doesn’t always answer the questions it poses, but then you wouldn’t really expect it to. Wonderful, urgent and beguiling.