Artist Project Toronto has commissioned Brooklyn-based performance and conceptual artist Lisa Levy to offer her critically acclaimed one-on-one psychology sessions at the upcoming fair. Guests at the multi-day art show will be invited to sit with Dr. Lisa S.P. (self proclaimed) for an individual “counselling” where they will be given an artistic prescription for their grievances.
This will be Lisa Levy, aka Dr. Lisa’s first-ever series of sessions in Canada. Acting as an unlicensed therapist gives Dr. Lisa the opportunity to use her humour to help people themselves — and the “sessions” are free to all Artist Project Toronto guests during the fair, April 13th – 16th.
Lisa Levy is a conceptual artist, painter, performer, comedian, and (self-proclaimed) psychotherapist. Before devoting herself fulltime to her art, she had a career as an art director in advertising. Her visual art has been widely exhibited at many venues including White Columns, Artists Space, Printed Matter, the New Museum, the Bronx Museum, Schroeder and Romero, the Pulse Art Fair, and Auxiliary Projects. Recently,
She completed a psychological investigation of extraordinary people for a six-month audio/visual project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, titled, “What Makes You So Special?”
Levy also performs live; her most popular character is Dr. Lisa, S.P. (self-proclaimed), who psychoanalyzes people on stage and on the street. Levy has performed at the Brooklyn Museum, BAM, Joe’s Pub, Woolly Mammoth Theater, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is currently hosting a weekly radio show, “Dr. Lisa Gives a Sh*t,” on Radio Free Brooklyn.
We had a chance to chat with Dr. Lisa to learn more ahead of her curious performance arts piece at Artist Project Toronto…
This is a different form of art therapy. What can people expect in this performance experience?
Dr. Lisa: I think of my performance sort of as fun “speed therapy”. People can come alone, with a partner, friend, or even a group with an issue to discuss or simply free associate with me to tease out what’s on their mind. Together we define their feelings further while I’m tuning into the way what I say or ask resonates with them. I’m forthright with my thinking to not waste time — then we play with different perspectives on their lives to see what feels right to them. I finish the session by writing a “prescription” on my personalized prescription pad of actionable advice, so they leave with a small artwork made just for them. People wonder if they’re actual prescription pads but if you look closely it says “State of Insanity” where the actual issuing US state would be. Also, I was brought up in a chaotic household where I became hypervigilant to keeps tabs on everyone and their motivations, so I’m certain that helps me tune into people quickly.
How did you first come up with this incredible performance idea?
Dr. Lisa: I’m neurotic to begin with and I’ve been in all sorts of therapy since I was 18 years old. I started group therapy in 2001. In that situation, I felt like I was watching a play. Everyone expressed their intimate feelings to a room of observer/participants, which seemed surreal since we were all strangers really. In group therapy, you can’t have contact with people outside the room—you can’t even know their last names. I wanted to see what would happen if you had this sort of intimate exchange with strangers, but in public. I have a hunger and an affinity for meaningful connections, so it was fun and satisfying to see how deep and revealing we could get in a short amount of time, partly because we don’t have the baggage of an ongoing relationship. And you don’t have to pay every week.
Can you share the first time you performed this work and what was it like for you?
Dr. Lisa: The very first time I did it, I rented a theater and invited friends. I had a real therapist office set for the stage where an audience volunteer could come up could lay down on the couch. I taped the performance and sent it to HERE Arts Center and got accepted into their summer festival. After my performance at the festival that night, Kristin Marting, HERE’s founder/director, who has been critical to me in birthing this project, offered me a monthly show at HERE. Within a year, I’d had a feature article in the New York Times and more offers to perform. It was a real surprise to me since I had no formal training in therapy and had never done any sort of performing. Since then, I’ve performed in so many places, on the street, on stage, on screen, in museums, galleries, art fairs, parties and the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. I’ve had thousands of patients including many celebrities. I am VERY discreet!
How long does each session last?
Dr. Lisa: Each session is about 5-10 minutes long. I help the “client” get to their point of examination quickly, my instincts click in, and I start asking questions. I use my intuition and check in with the subject to see if the direction I’m going in feels right to them. I think people find me non-judgmental and can tell that I truly want to help them which allows them to feel safe. And I am good at getting a laugh with them when it’s helpful, so ultimately, we all have a blast.
It must be fun to explore all the feels with the guests, but does it feel heavy at times. How do you prepare yourself?
Dr. Lisa: It depends. I am careful not to push anyone further than they are comfortable going. I am only spending a short amount of time with folks in one session, so I can only do so much. It’s also why I can be direct with my thinking. A real therapist has long relationships with patients and works to help clients work through their defenses over time, which is a big difference from what I do. It’s amazing to see how an interested “fresh eye” can really help.
This kind of performance energizing mostly because I’m on a mission to help people. If I feel like someone is testing me to see how I react I will call them out. The exciting part is when a lightbulb goes off and someone changes their perception of their situation. I can’t tell you how many times, years later, I run into people that say they hung their prescription up and it really helped them.
Any memorable sessions that you can share with us?
Dr. Lisa: When I am performing therapy, I get really immersed in the activity, so I don’t tend to remember specific incidents. Though one time I got an email from a man who was in town, NYC, visiting from London. We discussed issues he had with his wife. I received this email from him about a week later:
Dear Lisa, I am back in London following last Saturday’s session. Maria and I are once again deeply in love. The session has been nothing less than transformational. You may have to cope with being a genius. David R.
What do you wish people to know about this particular art experience?
Dr. Lisa: People often wonder if I am kidding or serious. It’s both. I love making people laugh and am serious about helping them and finding insights. There’s so much humor in truth!
Artist Project Toronto takes place at the Better Living Centre (Exhibition grounds) from April 13 to 16, 2023. There will be over 250 independent artists presenting their works. There will also be 10 large scale art installations, curator led art tours, and more. For more information on Dr. Lisa as well as Artist Project Toronto visit the official site here.