‘Dr.’ Emma Sulkowicz Will See You Now in New Philadelphia Contemporary Project

Patients can meet one-on-one for 30 minutes with the artist.

Emma Sulkowicz, The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Contemporary/Emily Belshaw.
Emma Sulkowicz, The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Contemporary/Emily Belshaw.

What’s next for performance artist Emma Sulkowicz? She’ll spend the last two weeks in January with the Philadelphia Contemporary, hosting “The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center,” a new participatory performance piece she’s calling “a parafictional medical clinic that provides a revolutionary cure for desire.”

In her new role as “Dr.” Sulkowicz (“creator and leading expert of the patented Healing Method™”), she will serve as physician to 130 patients, each of whom will meet with her one-on-one for 30 minute sessions.

The project is inspired in part by Sulkowicz’s experiences performing Carry That Weight, the senior thesis project that catapulted her into the public consciousness in 2014. While a senior at Columbia University, Sulkowitz carried her mattress everywhere she went on campus in protest of the school’s handling of her rape allegation.

The highly visible piece led to many interactions with the public, some positive, some negative. While Sulkowicz certainly attracted more than her fair share of online haters, she was also approached by people on the street who wanted to share their own accounts of sexual abuse, to confide in her, and maybe even ask for a hug.

“The reaction to my earlier work has made me think a lot about why we need art in our society, how art can heal in a way that regular medicine could never do,” said Sulkowicz in a statement. “Also, my parents and my aunt are psychiatrists, so I think this work shows reverence for their profession while also questioning it.”

She is aware that some participants may attend in order to express their own dislike of her and her art, and is prepared to deal with that. “Since my mission is to cure each ‘patient’ of their desires,” Sulkowicz told artnet News via email, “I will work with the patients to interrogate their desires for coming to the performance. We will have to determine together whether they really desired to tell me off, or if there are other desires hidden underneath.”

The performance will begin, as befitting a visit to the doctor, in a waiting room. The patient/ticket holders will be asked to show up 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork with questions such as “What do you desire to gain from your visit today?” “Would you like to discuss something specific with the doctor today?” and “Would you like to make physical contact with the doctor today?”

Emma Sulkowicz, <em>The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center</em>. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Contemporary/Emily Belshaw.

Emma Sulkowicz, The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Contemporary/Emily Belshaw.

Sulkowicz is promising a unique experience for each visitor, and the exhibition description offers that “attendees will come away with a new perspective on the relationship between art and the viewer, between control and vulnerability.”

Since completing Carry That Weight—she carried the mattress accross the stage at graduation in defiance of the administration—Sulkowicz has released a controversial online video that appears to depict her rape, titled Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (“This Is Not a Rape”), and held a gallery show where viewers could ask her, or her robot doppelganger, anything. She found visitors often stuck around to talk with her for long periods of time, which is part of the reason she’s doing half-hour sessions in her next piece.

Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Courtesy of Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university’s lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Courtesy of Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Most recently, Sulkowicz performed with Violet Overn at the Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach, and she hosted I.D., a party-cum performance piece in Brooklyn.

Tickets for “The Healing Touch” are $30 per appointment ($15 for students) and must be booked in advance on Eventbrite. There will be a public opening and panel discussion on January 11 (6:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m.), and an “Artist in Dialogue” event on January 23 at 7:00 p.m.

“On one level, I want viewers to come away with an understanding of why they go to see/participate in art in the first place,” said Sulkowicz, when asked what she hopes to accomplish with the show. “On another level, I want them to really, viscerally feel why art is important to them.”

Emma Sulkowicz: The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center” will be presented by the Philadelphia Contemporary at 3rd Street Gallery, 45 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, January 13–29, 2017, 10:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m. 


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