Qualeasha Wood’s latest exhibition tl;dr surveys the highs and lows of online personas, porn and pop-up ads
Qualeasha Wood’s tapestries are a product of her encounters online, shaped by the music that fills her studio (until recently a 300 sq ft space in Brooklyn). On a Zoom call with Dazed, she references Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want to Turn Into You and Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled debut as determining factors behind her latest body of work, while Kendrick Lamar, Charli XCX and Grimes are other confirmed favourites. “I was glad Lana Del Rey’s recent album came out when I was wrapping production,” she adds. “The conversations around grief in that album really resonated, if it had come out at the beginning I would have changed so much.”
tl;dr, her first European solo show (at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery) is a lot to do with loss, as well as being a vehicle for a regaining of self. “I really felt like I was having a rebirth moment,” says Wood. Graduating with an MA from Cranbrook Academy of Fine Arts in 2021 (she received her BA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2019, while The Met acquired a piece last year), her practice is largely concerned with introspection in relation to her multiple identities, which she probes via social media and selfies taken on a Macbook, interspersed with classic computer interface motifs on jacquard tapestries and tuftings.
“My first form of social media was probably AIM, when I had dial-up internet and AOL,” recalls Wood, alluding to the Gateway computer gifted her by her grandmother aged five, on which she discovered Yahoo Messenger and multiplayer games. “I lived on MySpace through other people because I wasn’t allowed it, then once I got on Facebook I kind of never got off it. I don’t think I’d make the same work if I hadn’t been so invested in online communities.” The acknowledgement is not necessarily all positive: she has been doxxed twice. “I wouldn’t have experienced how much outward perception had to do with my reality – the complete disconnect between people seeing me online and interacting with me in person,” she continues. “For a while, there was no separation... people didn’t consider me as a human but a place for information, to feel validated. The tapestries were borne out of that recognition.”
“I never want to make work that makes other people feel something if I don’t feel it too” – Qualeasha Wood
The notion of clout-chasing and this feeling of being placed on a pedestal – as well as her Christian upbringing and experiences as a Black queer woman – led Wood to foreground religious iconography in her work. “I was thinking about this community that accepts me for my identities, but not for who I am as a person, and then the communities I grew up in that love me as a person, but not the identities I hold,” she says, relaying the genesis of tl;dr. “Later I realised I didn’t want to be limited to religion, so it became a metaphor about projections and how I’m perceived.” The decision to include desktop interfaces meanwhile emerged while reflecting on her relationship with porn: “I don’t like to have conversations about porn directly in my work, but my experiences of navigating porn when I was younger, on a Windows XP, were tied with my computer freezing and disruptive pop-up ads – those things were permanently stuck in my mind.”
Majoring in printmaking at RISD, the artist initially admired textiles from afar, recovering information about the processes from friends; her fascination with material crafts however, was embedded much earlier she says, having grown up immersed in similar practices. “My parents were interested in what looked nice and also functioned – everything in our house had a reason, like rugs on the wall instead of a poster,” she shares. “My mum also tailored my clothes, and my great-grandmother was a big knitter: I have huge blankets she made that still hold up. It was important to me to further that legacy, but it took the last year or two for me to be comfortable being called a textile artist. I have so much respect for textiles as a craft, I never wanted to step on any toes.”
With the moniker tl;dr, Wood draws on her increasing disappointment with cyberculture. “I’ve realised a lot about myself this last year – like I have body dysmorphic disorder, which directly links to my ability to create art and tolerate looking in the mirror – so I want to be able to take comfort in community. To post about it and be vulnerable,” she says. “But I’ve noticed the way the algorithm and certain metrics work, people don’t care anymore. The work was about processing things, letting all these things out and then what was left, after editing, collaging, deleting and re-entering, was the summary: tl;dr.” Tied to this, is Wood’s discomfort in participating in a wider cultural moment that values, with disturbing assurance, art produced in response to trauma, specifically by marginalised artists. “I never want to make work that makes other people feel something if I don’t feel it too,” she asserts, “and if I didn’t walk away from it feeling stronger for having done it.”
Qualeasha Wood’s tl;dr is showing at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery from May 5 until June 4 2023.
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