The Paris Review

Slap the Wave: Online Therapy as Performance Art

Last month, I made an appointment to get “wrixled.” I knew little about the practice except that it was a new service available only online. Wrixling.com describes its product with language that is simultaneously straightforward and frustratingly opaque: it’s an “abstract therapy” that draws upon LARP (Live Action Role Playing) and attempts to “rescale” the “self.” Wrixling is a “one-on-one online participatory-psychic scrambling” and “word surgery,” which, to me, suggested that the experience would be invasive, entertaining, uncomfortable, and perhaps therapeutic.

A few days later, at the time of my scheduled appointment, I used Wrixling’s proprietary video chat to log in. It didn’t work: blank screen, spinning pinwheel. A few minutes later, I tried again, this time using Skype (as the site recommended). At twelve thirty-five, I connected with my practitioner, DirB Wentt.

All six wrixling practitioners use the prefix DirB, an abbreviation for “director of behavior” and a self-descriptor that the artist behind the project, Michael Portnoy, has often used in his work. Portnoy sees his primary material as human behavior—his own, his collaborators’, his audience’s—and delights in manipulating it in his performances. His most recent project, (2017), involved a private, two-on-one performance in which Portnoy and his collaborator, Lily McMenamy, sang into the pubic bone of a single, naked white man—the only audience member—for forty-five minutes. He did this with twenty men in twenty performances because, he claimed, he wanted to reprogram

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