Alternative therapy? Go on – treat yourself: The Spirit of Utopia at the Whitechapel Gallery


Art is set to collide with new-age therapies when the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes brings Sanatorium to the Whitechapel Gallery next week. His installation, ranging across five “treatment rooms”, will function as a clinic that offers a series of “self-discovery” sessions. Visitors temporarily become “patients” when they sign up for an activity, which will be administered by 30 quasi-instructors trained by Reyes.

The purpose-built Sanatorium, which was erected at the Guggenheim in New York two years ago and at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, combines the language of psychology and self-help with theatre, performance and philosophy. Therapies have been specially developed by Reyes: “Goodoo” is the artist's positive inversion of voodoo, in which participants are given a doll and place charms on it while visualising a person they know and like. In contrast, Vaccine Against Violence incorporates the cathartic process of drawing the face of an enemy on a balloon and attaching it to a punch-bag, which is then hit until the balloon bursts.

CityLeaks revolves around the unburdening of secrets: confidential information never before shared is written on a piece of paper and left in a bottle. These notes are then read aloud by other incoming visitors.

In a group session called Philosophical Casino, visitors roll a dice that has quotes by continental philosophers printed across it in order to gain an answer to any question they want to ask, after which a group discussion will ensue. In the Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes, visitors place tiny items in a miniature museum in an endeavour to curate their lives under categories such as work, love, family and career.

Kirsty Ogg, a co-curator of the show, says that visitors will be told these therapies are not based on real medical science – yet Reyes is keen to trace any positive effects they may induce. “He's interested in the placebo effect… The idea that we know it's an art project and not real, but that there may be some positive outcome from it,” she says. Reyes, she adds, wants to test the theory of “sociatry”, a combination of science and art which bears the possibility of healing society from the negative effects of urban living.

To book an appointment, visitors need to check in at the Sanatorium, Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (, part of the wider exhibition, The Spirit of Utopia, 4 July to 5 September