Sharing the Invisible Experience

by Danielle Moon Cunningham

Bernard’s curated exhibition Digital Embodiment features her own work, in addition to the digital offerings of other (dis)abled US artists. Her installation, It hurts but it feels good (2018-present), is comprised of a short video and relics shared from her life as a person living with cystic fibrosis. The film shows the artist in clinic during the end of a routine, but painful, two-stage PICC line procedure in which a catheter is connected to her pulmonary vein, delivering fluids and antibiotics, and is removed by a nurse weeks later. Bernard describes fearing the insertion but deriving relief and even pleasure from the removal. Projected onto life-sized pedestals and subtitled, the film not only embodies Bernard’s commitment to making her art accessible, it also gives the sense that the spectator and Bernard are at least close in scale yet separated by space and time. In addition to the projection, medical objects such as adhesive for keeping the PICC line in place, sodium chloride injection, and clear plastic tubing for an IV are placed on top of the pedestals.

While Bernard’s image is captured by the film, held hostage in a way as she is sometimes held hostage by hospitals and her own body, these objects act as ephemeral detritus, illustrating that garbage is always spawned from the relationship between Bernard’s body and the medical industrial complex. Though they keep her alive, these remnants are mass-produced and disposed of; forgotten, invisible, and mirroring the experience of (dis)abled people in an able-bodied society. Further, the medical items may have come from Bernard’s lived experience, but they also exist in the spectator’s physical reality, unlike the film, and provide a visceral glimpse into hospital culture. Overall, the work explores issues of hospital waste, patient care, and complex embodiment, while it also brings possibly ignorant spectators into the world of a person experiencing (dis)ability. Bernard invites them into a moment of vulnerability in which they hear (or read) her words, and see what remains of what has ultimately been a continuing, traumatic event. She is willing to share and asks spectators to try to relate, but are they willing?

Danielle Moon Cunningham is a person pretending to be a person on Spaceship Earth. She is a scholar, curator, and artist interested in metaphysics, futurism, and magical practices.