Hopefully, go forth and multiply: An Interview with Artist and Curator Cara Tierney

By Katie Kendall

Cara Tierney is an artist and most recently the curator of TRANSACTIONS, on until February 12th at Carleton University Art Gallery. A PhD candidate in Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture (ICSLAC) at Carleton, Tierney’s own artwork has been exhibited at CUAG in the solo show “Go Forth and Multiply” in 2012. Tierney’s autobiographical work explores issues of gender, identity, performance, and art historical tropes: In TRANSACTIONS, those notions, as well as allyship, belonging, community, and authenticity are explored and challenged. This year’s first-year MA Art History cohort recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tierney and ask them some questions about their artistic and curatorial practice, as well as the ideas, messages, and challenges of TRANSACTIONS.

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Image Credit: Fiona Wright

TRANSACTIONS celebrates queer experiences and explores the creative outputs of Elisha Lim, Kama La Mackerel, Coco Guzman, Morgan Sea, Oil Rodriguez, and Kalkidan Assefa as emerging from transactional creative exchanges. Asked by CUAG’s Curator Heather Anderson and Director Sandra Dyck to create an exhibition for the upstairs space of the Gallery, Tierney was initially apprehensive about the job, asking themselves: “Who am I to be asked to do this? What do I bring to the table?”. Tierney is particularly sensitive in the relationship between curator and artist, especially as the artists represented in TRANSACTIONS reflect their own values and artistic practice, with works that are largely autobiographical, self-representing, and largely about identity. Of the curator-artist relationship and the exhibition’s collaborative process, Tierney explains “as an artist, I know how I like to be treated; how I like to be approached; how I like my work to be shown. This absolutely informs the way I transacted with the artists. It involved spending time with them, hearing about their concerns, learning who they are, what their values are.” The result is a show which challenges stagnant notions of gender and identity, educating the audience yet never patronizing them. The vibe of the exhibition is positive, inclusive, safe.

Of exhibiting at CUAG, Tierney contends that “within all of society, [campuses] are the safest, most progressive spaces for queer people because it’s where that fringe of educated, progressive people are and where the language is changing.” Although universities are a great starting point, Tierney hopes to spread the influence beyond the campus, stating “I’m eager to move outside the institution and tackle some of the less safe spaces where people with less privilege, who don’t find their way to these safe spaces, are. It took me [a long time] to figure out who I was, and there are people out there with much less access and information who are either never going to figure it out, and are going to live their lives coming up against a wall over and over again, or worse. There is an urgency to doing this work and to wanting to move beyond the safety of [a campus] art gallery.”

The title of the exhibition, TRANSACTIONS, reflects the multiple interpretations, especially important given the subject matter. Tierney explains: “I saw this very much as an opportunity for education. I imagined, had I been a first-year student on this campus and I wandered into this show, it would have spared me about ten years of reading and banging my head against a wall I didn’t think was penetrable.” They continue, “from that it evolved quite loosely, [and although] I was very insecure about creating a curatorial mandate that wasn’t really structured and rigid, I think in regards to the subject matter, it needed to be a bit more diaphanous and have multiple interpretations.” The title, therefore, is a nod to transgender identities, but also acknowledges how identity is shaped by social transactions, with the works of the six artists represented as resulting from transactions between them and their community, their partners, their friends, and also between them and Tierney.

Tierney was cognizant of the conflicted feelings some artists may have with being labelled and essentialized as a “trans artist”. Although Tierney was careful to use the artist’s own language in write-ups, acknowledging their feelings and perspectives on the subject, they also felt the need for TRANSACTIONS to educate. Tierney explains, “we are at a point in our education where it’s still useful for us to stand up and say who we are and that this is something that we’re representing.”

As a result of this desire to educate and acknowledge and represent a multitude of interpretations, the exhibition is not created with a traditional linear approach. Tierney purposefully created two shorter text panels rather than one dominant one (as you see in most exhibitions). “I want you to be able to enter at either end and leave at either end,” Tierney explains. The last line on one of the text panels reiterates that the show is the result of a series of transactions—the next of which belongs to you, the viewer. Tierney elaborates: “I’m hoping people will take these ideas and leave the gallery with them.” The transactions will then, hopefully, go forth and multiply.

**A special thank you to Professor Carol Payne for organizing and recording the interview, and to the MA students of ARTH 5010 for transcribing: Anna Baccin, Rachel Neilson, Leah Iselmoe, Nicola Krantz, Sarafina Pagnotta, Meghan Ho, Marie-Maxime De Andrade, Jessie Gamarra, Diana Hiebert, and Sonia Poisson.

Editor’s Note: TRANSACTIONS is on display at the Carleton University Art Gallery until February 12, 2017.

About the Author: Katie Kendall is a first-year art history MA candidate in the Art Exhibition and Curatorial Practice concentration and is the Assistant Editor for Render. Born and raised in Ottawa, Katie received undergraduate degree in art history at Carleton. Her research interests include performance art and theory, relational art and aesthetics, curatorial practices in the public sphere, and socially engaged art. Katie recently curated CUAG’s 4th Community Art Show and has previously held internships at the Ottawa Art Gallery (2015), where she organized “The Illusion of Reality,” a solo exhibition for artist Margaret Chwialkowska at the OAG Annex Gallery.