John T. Gibson

A Sapper’s Abyss

Editor’s Note: Underlined content is hyperlinked (each underlined element is a clickable link), leading to further aspects of the content shared, here. (This convention is consistent, throughout Wordgathering.) “A Sapper’s Abyss” by John T. Gibson includes all of the elements listed in the contents, below. There are 57 photographs (with an image description of each photograph); these photographs are facets of Mr. Gibson’s immersive art exhibit, as discussed below. Four photographs of the immersive art exhibit, as a whole (with an image description of each photograph), are also included. Three sound files are additional, immersive aspects of the artwork. Lastly, a virtual “walk-through,” as discussed, below, is included (with an accompanying textual description). Read more about John T. Gibson’s “A Sapper’s Abyss” and his artistic process in the Interviews section of this issue of Wordgathering.

“A Sapper’s Abyss” was on display at 36 South Wabash Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois, during the summer and fall of 2018, as part of the ”Warrior Brain + Artist Mind” gallery exhibit, hosted by CreatiVets. CreatiVets is hosted by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

A virtual “walk-through” of “Warrior Brain + Artist Mind” (including “A Sapper’s Abyss”) is available online.

Special thanks to Dr. Jon Bowersox, Richard Casper, Ryan Hunady, Diane Wiener, and all the staff at CreatiVets, for without their support, none of this would have been—or be—possible.

“A Sapper’s Abyss” is currently stored (not on display) at the National Veterans Art Museum.

Content Warning: The content and themes in this artwork are for mature audiences only. The content, themes, images, and sounds may be disturbing to some. The content includes graphic representations of real gore, brief nudity, combat, and explosives. All photographic images are from the public domain, made available via The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, and have been donated, with permission, from the personal collection of Dr. Jon Bowersox.

Important Definitions:

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are explosive boobytraps consisting of three parts: an initiation device, a power source, and the main charge. The initiation device is (usually) an open circuit between the power source and the main charge. Upon the closure of the circuit, the charge is set off, causing an explosion. Ignition devices can be triggered by the victim or the other person through physical initiation, or through cellular means. Main charges can be anything from unexploded munitions (UXO) to homemade explosives (HME), but UXO is far more concentrated power.

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) is a standard vehicle used by U.S. and NATO troops in the conflict in South-West Asia from 2005 to the present. The vehicle has a “V-shaped Hull” to push explosions to the outside of the vehicle, rather than allowing the explosion to pierce the vehicle’s cabin. While these vehicles have proven to save countless lives on the battlefield, service members often experience catastrophic injuries to their backs and brains (e.g., herniated discs and traumatic brain injuries [TBIs]).

Content includes:

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About the Artist

John T. Gibson served as a Combat Engineer with the United States Marine Corps on the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). He received a degree in Social Work from Syracuse University in May 2020, and plans to pursue a graduate degree in art therapy and counseling. John is a disability advocate. As an artist, he works across a variety of mediums. John believes strongly in the healing power of self-expression through any means. “A Sapper’s Abyss” has been described as “a performance piece”; however, John prefers to think of this work as an immersive exhibit. He hopes that the exhibit engages the audience artfully and instructionally, while the audience’s tactile and other experiences inform and embed themselves in the exhibit’s effectiveness. John’s artwork can be found on Instagram