Brianna L. Hernández: Anticipatory / Después, at SPACES Gallery

Anticipatory / Después is an assemblage of multimedia works that visualizes the anticipatory grief and emotional labor involved in caregiving, as well as the mystery of the life process that is death. Brianna L. Hernández transforms the perfunctory tasks and ephemera of selfless and typically gendered (feminine) labor of caregiving into a sublime multimedia installation that captures the sacredness of this work.[1] Hernández’s installation is both personal and serves as a space of healing that captures the unifying truth that death is an unavoidable fact of living. It’s on view at SPACES Gallery through March 1.

Brianna L. Hernández, Para Mi, Para Ti, still from video, installation from Anticipatory / Después, on view at SPACES Gallery

Anticipatory / Después takes viewers on a nonlinear journey through Hernández’s mother’s last days, which includes elements of the banal—a calendar in which she kept record of doctor appointments, medicines, and what her mom ate each day, and the sacred—a video of her washing her mother’s feet in the bathtub, for example. In the video, titled Para Mi, Para Ti, we see Hernández leaning over the side of the tub, water running, and her mother—from the knees down, on a seat in the bathtub. The title—in English, for you, for me, reflects the mirroring of the two—child now bathes mother; indeed, a frequent refrain one hears from people caring for aging parents is, “They did it for me, now it is my turn.” Moreover, there is something “holy” about the washing of feet; for instance, Jesus washes people’s feet to show love and humility, in turn, his feet are washed by Mary Magdalen near the end of his life.

There’s an anticipatory grief that comes with caring for someone at their end. Unlike caring for an infant, who, we hope, will outlive us and have years of human joy, lessons, and love to come, the ultimate goal of eldercare is to help usher a person through a comfortable, dignified end. Hernández’s work helps us see and understand this, even if we’ve not yet been through the physical and emotional labor and deep grief associated with losing someone who’s always been there, like, in this case, one’s mother.

The essence of this unfathomable end is patently captured in Mirage, an interactive piece, film stills of a woman appearing and disappearing on a vintage toy viewfinder. In the few frames of image stills, we see the simple and profound fact of her mother coming into view and, within a few clicks, disappearing—ghost-like. Flowing scarf-like images, including a stunning depiction of her mother’s hands as she rests in an adorned coffin, further remind us of the fleeting nature of life, the inevitability of death.   

Anticipatory / Después, installation view at SPACES Gallery

There’s an intimacy in caregiving and receiving, a trust that must be established as the people we’ve looked to for wisdom and support begin to look to their children and community for the same. The humbling growth that occurs deepens or complicates these intergenerational relationships, as Hernández’s work illustrates. The new partnership that mother and adult child create is apparent in a note wherein her mother asks her to hang the laundry outside to dry. Written in beautiful cursive script and signed, “Love, Mom,” it accompanies a video of the laundry, still blowing in the breeze. The banal note and the clothesline with laundry of both women become sacred as a mother’s last written request to her caregiver-child.

While “Anticipatory / Después” is specific to Hernández’s experience of grief and isolation, it is applicable and relatable, particularly amid current social ills such as gun violence and the global pandemic. American culture typically sanitizes death and—after funeral services and a “respectful” amount of time for grieving–the feelings of losing someone, particularly after learning more about their humanity through caregiving, are expected to be squelched for work, parenting, and the day-to-day survival-grind. Consequence, a video work that is projected on to the gallery floor, depicts what it felt like for Hernández to be in the utter hole of grief, as we see the artist—below and outside of our realm, writhing and wailing in pain.

Brianna L. Hernandez, Anticipatory / Después

January 12 – March 1, 2024


2900 Detroit Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44113

[1]Strategic Communication, “Appreciating the Value of Women as Caregivers,” January 26, 2024). Females make up 50 to 70 percent of caregivers of elders in the U.S.   

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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