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Frieze London 2020

Issy Wood: The Future is Tipp-Ex'd

When lockdown hit London, the artist Issy Wood used her blog as a regimented daily exercise: an attempt to describe the experience of a time when ‘every day is precious but of no consequence’

BY Issy Wood in Frieze Week Magazine | 12 OCT 20

Wednesday 25 March

Women I saw on the internet:

A woman with frosted tips saying: ‘We all stand out / stand crooked / stand alone.’

A woman advertising the FBI’s new fitness app, making biometric data harvesting seem almost healthy

A woman with a smoky eye who’s written ‘racism does not solve a pandemic’ on her cheek in lipliner

All six of the women in my newly digital, eating-disorder group shifting uncomfortably because therapy is no longer just like looking in the mirror for an hour at your soul – now it’s your face too

A woman who is passionate about lions and tigers and leopards and cheetahs – despite admitting she is allergic to cats – is asked by a man about the patterns on everything in her home. She says: ‘It’s cats.’

A woman who pretends to like a corvette

A woman who offers to cook for a rapper but he declines, accusing her of trying to serve him rice and oronavirus [sic]

A woman in a Dove soap ad from 1973 knowing nothing of what was to come


Tuesday 7 April

Today, you roll with the punches. You emphasize ‘punches’. You delight in really bad poetry and your friends’ scathing homages to this poetry and you write your own bad poetry because why, in god’s name, not?

You wish addicts – grateful recovering ones and ungrateful recovering ones; grateful relapsing ones and ungrateful relapsing ones – well.

They try not to let you, but you do it anyway: you fry chanterelles that aren’t even close to being in season.

You try to work out, gun to your head (you make the gun a water pistol because America), who you’d rather spend the best years of your reproductive life with: Louis CK or Tony Soprano. You watch CK’s new comedy special, marvel at the un-cancelling abilities of Covid-19, notice he has been working out, which you’d think would give him a slight edge on Soprano, but to assume this would be to underestimate your weird hunger.

You forgave CK a while ago for handling the accusations better than most other fallen titans. This is because rampant denial set a remarkably low bar.

You decide you are a slave to humour and that this comes from your family of origin where a good punchline paves over all kinds of misdemeanour.

Sure, you cut CK far less slack in his set: had you been the victim of his misconduct, you’d be tearing your hair out at how he spins the story into almost-not-his-fault.

You wonder whether his real punishment should be no laughter ever again, but you aren’t and he did and

it isn’t.

The sorts of bits that killed you two years ago still kill you: CK walking into a small, empty craft store, torn between social decency and wanting to pick up one of the store owner’s crafts and asking: ‘Oh, so you made this instead of killing yourself?’

You realize you ask yourself a version of this exact question in the studio looking at your own paintings regularly, because all the art you make you make instead of killing yourself and, sometimes, nobody puts it as well as CK.

You say ‘damn’ after the special ends, wondering whether it’s more progressive to whine: ‘Why does this great comedian have to be such a pervert?’

or ‘Why does this pervert have to be such a great comedian?’

You sign in to group therapy and – spoiler alert – everybody still has an eating disorder. You decide to start more sentences with ‘spoiler alert’ from now on, especially when it’s not needed.

Issy Wood's studio, 2020. Photograph: Kuba Ryniewicz

Saturday 25 April

Today is for extrapolation, though perhaps this goes for all days now that the future is Tipp-Exe’d. Everybody is talking about graphs and trends and curves and some are using the word ‘curves’ as a bodily double entendre that was funny the first time.

I walk from the studio towards my home in the kind of sun that feels hard-earned. I try to cover at least some of my T-shirt because it says ‘MAKE A WOMAN CUM FOR ONCE’ in red letters. I see a large recycling bin on fire in a deserted alley just off Spitalfields Market (which, by the grace of god, no longer sells vintage aprons and a lot of woven jewellery). The fire is small until it isn’t and starts to engulf a moped and a large box that has ‘Pazzaz’ written on it. I call the fire department for the first time in my life and worry I’m making too much of a fuss. I say to the operator: ‘I worry I’m making too much of a fuss.’ And he says: ‘No, it sounds like a real fire.’ And I say: ‘It’s a real fire.’ Then I hang up, walk.

In my extrapolation, I imagine the fire doing one of two things:

The first is that the motorbike petrol tank explodes, my ‘MAKE A WOMAN CUM FOR ONCE’ T-shirt catches fire, burning my whole body and face and, when lockdown ends, I am so disfigured that the music industry, shallow as it is, asks a sexy 12-year-old from Hull to sing my songs. I begin making art almost exclusively about the body and largely sell paintings to the plastic surgeons who worked tirelessly to reconstruct my face and torso.

The second is that the fire miraculously dies down the moment I hang up on emergency services. I flee the scene, embarrassed, but the fire engine arrives and begins tracking my phone to hold me to account for what will, in court, be called Fire Fraud or Reverse Arson. I am sent to prison and have to make pornographic drawings in return for cigarettes. When I’m released, I’m too old to have a mid-career retrospective that doesn’t fall into the ‘prison art’ genre.

All this wild, self-centred speculation feels like one long absurd game of ‘Would You Rather?’, which just isn’t the same without my friends.


Tuesday 5 May

He says: ‘I can select your wardrobe.’

He says: ‘Let’s go shopping.’

He says: ‘I’m a little lonely.’

He says: ‘I usually walk around with it.’

He says: ‘Risky.’

He says: ‘I’m not use [sic] to this kind

of dry spell.’

He says: ‘No dilemma here.’

He says: ‘These images have a shelf life.’

He says: ‘Horny for you’re [sic] body

my dear.’

He says: ‘I think Hitler was born on 4/20.’

He says: ‘So exciting.’

I say: ‘I’ve been thinking this isn’t such

a good idea just because I’m trying

to work on my …’

He says: ‘Booooooooooring.’


Friday 15 May

Every day is precious but of no consequence. I try to look forward to things as far in the future as possible so that I’m not pinning hope on anything outlandish: shows in autumn 2021, vague feats of science, world-class astrological readings, maybe intercourse.

I’m beating myself up for not making much music in the evenings, but this is tactical because the songs for my first grown-up contractual EP are set in stone and I don’t want to make something I’m desperate to shoehorn in only to be told no by the industry bros.

After completing Grand Theft Auto’s narrative arc, I now try to make sure my characters are enjoying their retirement. They’ve all got upwards of US$10,000,000 in the bank and I want their cups to runneth over with strippers and pointless suits and for there still to be crime (that is all they know) but no more train heists or federal coercion. One character is living out his remaining years as an occasional paparazzo; another plants sticky bombs on elk in the forest and takes photos of them exploding on his camera phone to send to his nemeses; the third character spends time with his family but wears sunglasses.

I wonder how psychologically deformed I’ll be by this era, how much of a shock normality will seem, or whether the return to a status quo will be so gradual that I won’t be able to spot the leaps. It makes sense this crisis is centred around an illness because the climb out of it will abide by the same rules as any recovery – no big epiphanies or silver bullets, just fits and starts and boring plateaus and temporary square-ones, new compensatory societal habits that are more insidious and do just as much damage as the illness itself.

My therapist told me on Wednesday that Stockholm syndrome is becoming pretty common to all her eating-disorder clients. Maybe it’s that we’re no strangers to shapeless, self-imposed prisons, that in fact it’s a relief to have the government mirror the clean, strict and almost moral imperatives that define anorexia. A national clamp on intimacy and other needs, an association of appetite (sexual, dietary) with fear, whereby every person or grocery aisle is a risk and going looking for love outside of the household is seen as selfish or greedy: what could be more ‘nervosa’ than that?

But for those of us (and, in some small way, this is all of us) wanting to continue the baby steps of rewiring our brains to tolerate a bigger, denser and more pleasurable world, summer 2020 is a progress cul-de-sac. I fought with my therapist about it – calling her expectations unrealistic – which felt useless too.

The line between help and hinder is blurring for me: out of ‘saving lives’, the messaging has grown a new brand of vitriol toward those who aren’t doing this crisis right, aren’t feeling the right things or being cautious, those who are cashing in on the spare time too much or not exploiting it enough.

It’s probably not healthy but I try to watch all of it in the judgement-free way I watch the faux-Los Angeles cityscape on my screen in Grand Theft Auto, seeing a lot of crime and holes in the plot and characters who are roped into various algorithms – whose behaviour has already been written for them – doing the best they can.

Issy Wood's studio, 2020. Photograph: Kuba Ryniewicz

Thursday 21 May

I know some people who are fine and some who are not.

I know some people who are making money either despite or because of the pandemic and some who are broke because they’ve always been broke or are newly broke.

I know some people who are good at art but bad at life and some who are excelling in the day to day but make art that, on an almost ethical level, should be hidden in a cupboard.

I know some people who can’t make art because their art needs scores of people congregating, if only temporarily, to make it and I know some who can make their art anywhere and are doing just that. (Though a subsection of these people lack the inclination, which I understand.)

I know some people who can get haircuts and tests and inflatable pool animals because their wealth makes this possible and some who see those people and want to murder those people but quietly yearn for plastic dolphins at night.

I know some people who sneak out to have sex with strangers and set their alarms for 5am so their roommates don’t notice and some who have arrived at an asexual place after mild to moderate pain.

I know some people who are getting fatter because waiting tables was their cardio and some who would put lifting weights before their own families’ health.

I know some people who are hanging onto unrealistic plans for the autumn and some who insist on cancelling things that aren’t even things yet.

I know optimism and I know pessimism and I know some people who send too many newsletters that I don’t remember signing up for.


Thursday 11 June

Algorithmically, I’m being touched by kid gloves these days: where ruthless art-market memes and tales of mental-health malpractice used to be, there are now just videos of people slicing cake or foam bricks, weaving small furniture out of leaves, making flowers from fruit and fruit from flowers. I begin to think the world isn’t, after all, replete with police killings but is, rather, just one big crafts table.

‘Isn’t ignorance such bliss?’ a blonde woman from Ohio’s eyes seem to say as she attaches a pastry lid to her miniature peach pie, ‘and wouldn’t you rather watch me make tortellini from scratch than be asked again and again to pledge digital allegiance to the black community?’

That’s the thing about America: it’s as much an alarm clock as a snooze button. And pie isn’t just pie. Note the scene from The Help (2011) where Octavia Spencer’s character shits in the chocolate pie she’s about to serve her owners, as though one act of scatological revenge could repair the framework supporting that pie’s existence. Note, also, Jason Biggs’s character in American Pie (1999) fucking the pie his mother made, as though its lattice and filling were tantamount to all of womanhood. Note that Martha Stewart, the nation’s favourite piestress, went to jail for insider trading, and that there was a fictional homage to her in Orange Is the New Black (2013–19).

The pie was brought to America by British colonists in the 17th century – who, in turn, got it in the Roman-invasion goody bag – and it came to represent all that is American: racism, displacement, feminized labour. It suits Britain quite well too in this respect, but that whole lattice crust thing looks a bit like a jail to me.


Friday 3 July

The mogul prepares two nondescript circles of soy on a plate and deems it breakfast, achieves a moment of ethical quiet in the ethical minefield that is masculinity, which is also business.

While other captains of industry insist on obscene, hotel-style spreads to begin their days, the mogul has come to enjoy a certain destitution in the morning: it helps him keep things ‘real’. One weekend, he ate corn on the cob, including the cob, then journaled about it. If that’s not real, he doesn’t know what is.

The mogul laughs quietly to himself thinking of a time, 14 years ago, when his rider forgot to bring the 4 mg of Xanax he needs 37 minutes before a public appearance. It’s not the maniacal laughter associated with men of his stature, more a quiet hiccup that he’s been meaning to work on. He makes a note to research menace.

The rider is an acclaimed screenwriter now. You’d think the fact that somebody so inept has won 11 Emmys would cause the mogul distress, but it’s honestly OK because, as the mogul’s therapist always says, when he gets all worked up on the couch like he’s trying to unpick a wedgie in his heart: ‘There’s more than enough success to go around.’

Plus, the mogul barely cyber-bullies her in the evenings anymore. He’s closed most of his fake accounts and learned to set a timer on his phone for the Xanax, so it’s really a blessing in disguise that that happened because there’s no ‘i’ in mogul but there is one in independence, which really works out great for all parties, including animals – which you shouldn’t eat, even if they’re delicious or it’s for work.


Sunday 12 July

The prospect of better weather — and better is used loosely here — keeps my demons doing push-ups off stage in the prep-school rendition of Othello that 
is my mind. I don’t feel better; I feel 
less bad.

Hormones interfere, as they’re wont to do, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying a day in V’s garden with our two other friends, S and A, now being called a coven.

‘I think there should be tax breaks for women who decide not to procreate,’ I posit, quoting Fran Lebowitz, who 
I am very late to adoring, crushing on. ‘Or at least free pet surgery,’ someone else says. ‘Or something to do with 
the environment.’ Then we all sit back on our loungers and enjoy the sound 
of no-one’s child crying or soiling itself.

I FaceTime with C and she cuts herself off mid-sentence to swat at all the bugs landing on her body while she sunbathes near the ocean. I forget the American phobia of ticks on the east coast and of Lyme disease that, controversially, my mother dismisses as mostly fake news. I’m open to all opinions, but I do know that the one man I’ve met who claims to have been hit hardest by Lyme is more likely to be experiencing psychosomatic guilt after funnelling specious currency from Malaysian wealth criminals into auction houses.

The same man sung hydroxychloroquine’s praises at the beginning of April and, when asked to join a big gallery’s staff, insisted that the gallery take out 
a little extra cover against sexual-harassment charges.

In the black-cab ride home from V’s with a headache, when the driver began asking me about what I do, I failed to put my foot down re: my headache and the silent ride I’d hoped for. How I can be so sardonic to my closest friends and so imprisoned by politeness with strangers is, I think, Britishness embodied.

The conversation began with music and ended in us moodboarding ideas for subtly yet savagely denouncing Uber in a slew of TfL ads. ‘You can 
do the graphics,’ the driver suggested, then grilled me about how much my art costs. I said if I told him he wouldn’t believe me. ‘Try me,’ he said. ‘How much for a big one, like, bigger than me?’ And I whispered: ‘£1,000.’

Main image: Issy Wood's studio, 2020. Photograph: Kuba Ryniewicz

Issy Wood is an artist based in London, UK. Her most recent collection of writing is All The Rage (2019).