Collage and Context, Performance and Participation: Interview with Dan Cardinal McCartney

Vol. 1 Issue 01 Summer 2019
Interview held by Louie Fermor on 28 April 2019  on Treaty 7 Territory in Mohkintstis (Calgary)

Dan Cardinal McCartney graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design in 2016. His maternal family is from Fort Chipewyan, Alberta although he was raised in Fort McMurray. His maternal blood lines are a proud mix of Mikisew Cree, Suline Dene and Métis. As a two spirit, transmasculine person, Dan sifts through questions of blood memory and inter- generational trauma. Gender dysphoria, combined with cultural diaspora, leaves gashes to either remain open or to be scabbed over in time.

"...I think it’s taking my experiences and putting them into a space that I never would have thought would be possible for me as a foster child and indigenous two-spirit person. So, for me, it’s like, “Oh! I have a seat at the table.”


Cardinal McCartney, Dan. Straddling: Irresponsibility and Avoidance. Artist standing in front of installation view as shown at the Alberta Gallery of Art, 2019.

1. Gray, John. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. 

2. Hunter, E.J. White Squaw. New York: Zebra Press, 1983-1992. 

In your sculptural, collage, and performance work it seems you use very specific materials. There’s what appears to be a mixture of found materials and perhaps those that I’ll described as “seeked out” materials. Would you consider your choice in materials a way to develop a context for your work? Be it geographical or cultural? 


Yeah for sure. I would definitely say it’s completely scavenged, seeked, hunted out. It’s sourced and gathered. Which is an important part of my practice. Everything has to be intentional: everything has to be from the year of 1952 to 1993 for source material. I don’t go one year over, one year before. And that's the context of my white foster parents: the year of my father’s birth to the year that I was born, and what passed within that time's cultural context. I’ve used no materials from a person of colour or a queer person. It’s all white, cis, straight people’s words and works.




Everything has to be very much within that white context. Or else it’s not relative to my practice. 

It’s very specific. Medical textbooks, self-help books from the seventies. Written from the perspective of a man to help a woman. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus1, that’s my favourite one. I have, like, seven copies of it. Because it’s trash and horrible [laughs]. And Western novels. White Squaw2 is a really good one. And anything that has really horrible racist undertones as well. It’s from a gender perspective, but also from a race perspective. And a class perspective too because I use a lot of Time magazines. Which have been accessible to a lot of people, but still through the white filter, and about current issues in the world. 


Do you think — as it's demonstrated in self-help books that are directed at women— that they’re creating a narrative for how you understand yourself? Do you think there was the same thing happening in the Western novels? 


Oh for sure! [Laughs] Now that you say that— that’s funny because it’s completely true. It’s all this perspective from a white person observing the Native people, or the Native person. Coming to terms with the fact that they are a savage in the Western novels but they could help the white person in the narrative. So it’s always from the perspective of, “I will be subservient to you as a woman or as an Indigenous person.” Like, “Dear White Man, I’ll help you.” 


“And that will be the redeeming factor of my identity.” 


Yes, exactly. If you flip open any of these books it’s very much like that. Especially in the gender section of the self-help books it’s completely like, “This is what your journey as a woman is going to be like.” And for me that’s so insidious. It comes off as so helpful but there’s  actually that very insidious factor underneath everything. A story that you think is fine, that you think is commonplace, but it’s actually very disgusting. That also happens today— I think it was slightly more explicit fifty years ago. So I just take that, and push it into the context of now. 


Cardinal McCartney, Dan. Straddling Irresponsibility and Avoidance, detail. 2019.

3. Alberta Gallery of Art 

4. Fix your hearts or die. 13 April 2019 - 18 August 2019. Art Gallery of Alberta, Lethbridge. 

5. Fermor, Anj. "Queers and Our Counterparts: Representation of Queer Experience, and Navigating the Tokenized Image." Luma Quarterly, 2.007, Winter 2017. 

6. Formerly Alberta College of Art and Design, now Alberta University of the Arts 

How do you bring it into the context of now? What choices are you making? 


I’d say just from the perspective of someone who’s born in 1993: I’m bringing it to the now. I think molding it through found materials, like in my palette structures that I’ve recently shown at the AGA3 for Fix your hearts or die4, curated by Jessie Short. I find materials like palettes from 2018, 2017, 2019. So it’s stuff that is accessible, things I can use now, materials that are used by homeless people to use structures. Materials that are accessible to anybody. I’m hoping to bridge the gap between the inaccessible, white world and then, through my materials, bridge that to the Indigenous very-much-accessible-to-us way of living. 


Do you think that lack of accessibility is present in art spaces that you show in? 


I would say… So what was really exciting about Jessie curating the show as a Metis woman, and having the studio visit with her perspective is that I felt very safe in her hands. Because she understood things about queerness and indigenous identity that I didn’t really have to explain. I would say that the spaces that I do show in usually are run by white curators, white gallery people. Which is great, but there’s that lack of shorthand understanding.

I can only speak that from a Calgarian perspective. Because when I showed in Edmonton it was with Ociciwan and obviously they’re an indigenous collective. So I would say in Calgary that’s mostly an issue. Curators here work really hard but the shorthand isn’t there. I would say it’s inaccessible, for sure. 


In 2017 I did an interview with you and Nine called, "Queer and Our Counterparts" for Luma Quarterly5.  In which we discussed tokenization as artists: mine as a queer person and yours as both a queer and indigenous person. Though it’s only been two years since that interview, I feel on my part that my experience of tokenization has changed. For you, as an emerging artist who is no longer fresh out of school, who has experience with exhibitions, showing work and as someone who has had a place on a board at Stride— do you have any perspectives on how minority artists are being chosen for shows in Calgary? How their work is being seen? 


I would say, for Stride, it’s exciting. Because Nicole Kelly Westman, the director at the time, invited me to apply for the board and she is Metis through her mother’s side. For her to be inviting me on the board— that didn’t feel tokenizing. And then Areum Kim, she’s Korean, that didn’t feel tokenizing. And then with Kablusiak on the board and then Kimberly Jev, who is a black woman on the board— that doesn’t feel tokenizing. But I would say there’s always going to be the danger of feeling tokenized when you’re an artist.


I think it’s taking my experiences and putting them into a space that I never would have thought would be possible for me as a foster child and indigenous two-spirit person. So, for me, it’s like, “Oh! I have a seat at the table.” And that’s really interesting to me. It’s kind of an uncomfortable seat because there’s so many factors that don’t get addressed. Like being in foster care, that not’s part of the conversation. Because it’s not a fun part of the conversation. Despite all of my trauma-focused work, that's one big thing that doesn’t get talked about. That’s one facet of Indigenous identity, in general, that doesn’t get talked about: that there’s more children in foster care then there were in residential schools. I was a part of that. 

So, I’d say I still feel kind of tokenized because I tick two boxes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about that for me but I think it’s something that people have to be careful about. 


I know when we had that tokenization was something I was always so aware of when I was making work. And one of those reasons is because we were fresh out of ACAD6 and were forging identities beyond school. Understanding ourselves beyond the resources of the school: when you have to become self-made in a way. 


Yeah you have to. 


So I was in conflict about being tokenized as a queer person. There were some things that were starting to be handed to me because I’m queer. And as an emerging artist you really just grasp at straws. 


You have to. You really have to. 


Cardinal McCartney, Dan. Misgendering Mouthfuls. performed at Untitled Artist Society, 2018.

7. Cardinal McCartney, Danny. Misgendering Mouthfuls. 03 November 2018. Untitled Artist Society, Calgary. 

8. Artist-Run Centres

9. Osbourne, B.G. A Thousand Cuts, 2018.

10. Natasha Chaykowski, Director of Untitled Artist Society. 

"That would be a lot of emotional energy on my part as an indigenous person: if I did a protest in that space what would that look like? Would there would be legal ramifications— would there be cops called?"

This past November you performed Misgendering Mouthfuls at Untitled Art Society7 in response to allegations of censorship of the trans artist B.G-Osborne at Art Commons. I know, for myself, as someone who is tied to many of the parties involved— though not the artist— that I’m trying to navigate how to act when something like this happens. Especially as an emerging artist: it’s hard in our position to turn down opportunities to exhibit work even when we want to speak out. So when I saw that you removed yourself from exhibiting with Arts Commons and then were supported by another arts organization, Untitled Arts Society, I was impressed by both you and UAS. Many ARC’s8 dropped their +15 exhibition spaces during the censorship controversy.


The spaces were well-understood as one of the best venues for students and emerging artists to have their first opportunity to show work in Calgary and to get a line or two on their CV. So I was happy to see UAS follow through with their mandate to support emerging artists by not only ending what was described as a tumultuous relationship with Arts Commons, but to also provide an emerging artist a space immediately afterwards. I’m especially happy because it was one of the first performances of yours that I had actually seen in person. And to be frank, it was one of the best performances that I’ve seen by a queer artist in Calgary. 


Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that. 


Of course. And not only emerging queer artists— any queer artist. So, with all that in mind, would you speak to your decision making process when you backed out of the +15 space? 


Yeah, for sure. I would say with Beck’s [B.G-Osborne’s] work9 there are some things that are very similar to mine— in the collage editing style they did— which reminds me of my own work: they didn’t hold anything back. There was that viewer complaint about the nudity or the nakedness in some of the clips. I personally hardly saw any nakedness, I don’t know what they’re talking about. But the fact is in my art, and as we’re sitting in my studio now, there’s naked drawings of me on the wall. And if I had put any of the work I had in mind for the +15 show I probably would have gotten censored too. And that, as a trans artist, doesn’t feel really great. So my decision went right back to how I would feel. That’s the only point of reference really. Like, “No, that would make me feel horrible.” I wouldn’t want another trans artist to show in the space, selfishly, because that would feel kind of— a little gross to me. So I’m like, “Okay I wanna support Beck,": a trans artist to a trans artist. That was my main decision in this. 


At UAS, Natasha10 was like, “You could interrupt the space somehow. You could be subversive in the space.” I was like, “No I’m not gonna give them my time in that space”. That would be a lot of emotional energy on my part as an indigenous person: if I did a protest in that space what would that look like? Would there would be legal ramifications— would there be cops called? I have to think about another layer that maybe Beck, as a white person, didn’t have to think about. But there was something I had to think about: “How can I do something that is really immediate, that is not in the original space but in another space that can garter just as much attention about the censorship?” And then Natasha was like, “What about a performance?” And I was like, “Ah! Yeah, duh, of course. Of course. That only makes sense.” So that was the decision making process of doing a performance: because I wanted something really immediate and in your face. For my collages, you have to spend a little more time with them— that’s fine, that serves another purpose. But my performances: most of them are in your face. Some might say aggressive, I think they’re raw. And that’s definitely the case for Misgendering Mouthfuls


What was the work that you were going to show in the Arts Commons +15? What did it look like? 


I worked on it, it took a long time, and I got rid of it because it took up a lot of space. 


Oh, really? 


It was collage material of family portraits that was really, really large and was going to cover the entire window of the vitrine space. You could have done a kind of peek-through: not a glory hole, but maybe if that’s where you’re mind goes. It would be a look into the space through the collage material. And there were going to be lights, shadow play. Then, behind the collage material, a replication of a family photo but really, really large. It’s from the Indigenous side of my family. You can see all of the family dynamics just in the five-person stance. That was something I was really interested in. And that was work that I hadn’t really approached: using direct references from my own life. So I was really excited to do it. And I was working quite a bit and then, “Nope. They don’t get that. Arts Commons does not get to see that work.” And so… we’ll just make it another time! We’ll just work on it again. [laughs]


So you had to get rid of it? 


I thought, “This just doesn’t work”. Because it was going to be really directly applied on the glass. And it was taking up room in my studio.


Oh, so it was made for the space. 


It was very specific for the space. 


Do you think that you would make it again?  


I think so. I would have to respond to a space for it to work. Or figure out a way to install it that would give the same effect. 


Sort of like the vitrine in the +15 space. The really unique—


Transitional. Non-binary kind of space. That space I’m really interested in: the transitional, existing in daylight, sun-up, sun-down, kind of vibe. 


If I had seen the glory hole (so to speak) I would have drawn a conclusion about voyeurism. White people looking at Indigenous people. We choose when we get to look at indigenous people…




And that seems to connect very well with the books that you were talking about earlier where white people get to decide how they interact with indigenous people in a narrative, in how we look at them…


Exactly. Especially with a family portrait. Going directly back to the generational trauma. The tones of sexual abuse under it too: you’re perpetuating that [by looking], kind of opening up a wound. You get what you want and you don’t care about the three children of the photograph. That’s what I was super interested in for that piece. 

I probably should make it again. I’m thinking about it now… [laughs]




Cardinal McCartney, Dan. Misgendering Mouthfuls, detail, 2018.

"I made eye contact by accident with a few people when I was performing and it was a lot for me, it kind of took me out of it for a bit. And I’ve had dreams since where I actually see these people’s faces and their reactions."

"So I thought maybe that’s how I could reach somebody who is perhaps a cis straight man: the experience of man up and suffer through it."

So in that same interview, the Luma Quarterly interview, when we were discussing tokenization, you said that people only take your art seriously when you’re “crying or naked”—


It’s still true! [laughs]


And that when you make work that doesn’t include those things that you actually receive less feedback. 



And at the time you seemed to consider this as a part of the tokenized image of an Indigenous person, as a trans person. You called that token the, “sad, stoic Indian boy” and described that people often only want to view that image and not interact with your actual personhood. 

I think one of the reasons that Misgendering Mouthfuls was such a good performance is because, though you were crying, the audience wasn’t interacting with those tears as a tokenized image: the source of the crying was being demonstrated right in front of the audience. Eating over a dozen sour lemons in a row would make anyone cry. So instead of the source of tears being abstract or hard to imagine (like the experience of an oppressed person to a privileged person), access to that pain was right in front of you. Because this accessible, physical pain was being demonstrated through an experience that everyone has had (eating a sour lemon) your description of the pain of being misgendered was easier to access. 

As a queer and indigenous person, are there any works you’ve made or performances you’ve done where you developed a technique or image that undermines this tokenization?

I think you hit the nail on the head. You have to take something that everybody has experienced and bring it down to the most simplistic level. Like, if you were to write it on a piece of paper it sounds almost childish: “I’m gonna line up twenty-five lemons and I’m gonna eat them,” and basically say horrible, nasty stuff back to the audience from what people have said to me.

Like, let’s take it away to the most simple thing. I did another performance a really long time ago, it didn't even have a title, where I stripped naked— it was a very binary performance, I wouldn’t do it again necessarily. It was very spur of the moment. I’m dressed in more feminine clothing, stripping all the way naked— two months post top-surgery so I was very sore then too— to more masculine clothing. And then shaking everybody’s hands before and after each [gender] presentation. I think just taking the acts of dressing-down, dressing-up, shaking people’s hands, making eye contact— and having that connection there: I don’t think it matters who you are. I think people participate and become an audience with those simple interactions. 

I definitely noticed that during Misgendering Mouthfuls. The audience was participating in it: because I was on my knees, people were eye-to-eye with me. I made eye contact by accident with a few people when I was performing and it was a lot for me, it kind of took me out of it for a bit. And I’ve had dreams since where I actually see these people’s faces and their reactions. 


Oh wow. 


 Just between sleep and being awake. That’s how far you have to block it out sometimes for performance. And especially with the stripping performance. But I think that hopefully subverts the crying, stoic Indian image. I don’t know if I’m perpetrating it— but I hope I’m pushing the energy back onto the participants to get them thinking. 


I mean, as tokenized artists, those images of us exist anyways. And they do have a root somewhere. And because the history is so strange and hard to navigate where the actual origins of these images' narratives come from— I feel you almost have to respect there was some kind of history to it. 


Exactly. Just the idea that, “I’m gonna eat these twenty-five lemons and I’m gonna do it all.” That idea is very macho, or masculine. “I’m gonna do it,” and the idea you’re not a real man— like you have to prove your masculinity. That also played into that. 




A lot of the people in the room who were assigned male at birth, and socialized to be a man despite how they actually felt inside, probably related to that. So I thought maybe that’s how I could reach somebody who is perhaps a cis straight man too: the experience of man up and suffer through it. They weren't necessarily the focus and why I was doing the performance though.


That an interesting contrast between the performance, Misgendering Mouthfuls, and the work you proposed to do for Arts Commons. Though I think it may have very well been a great work, it would have been more abstract. 


You’d have to chew through it; And I’m not sure if the +15 would have been the best view of that sort of work. I think it was a happy accident, you know? There was definitely some positive that came out of it. I’m really happy that I did a performance as opposed to that work, in the long run.