This terrible thing has happened, I will never be the same: “Securing a free state” — Jennifer Nelson

October 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm 1 comment

When this project was percolating last year, thinking choreographically I
initially approached it with a dumb pun about the right to bear arms. I was
thinking about the way the mind fills the fire-“arm” with its
intention, and the way this intention penetrates social space with its
imperative to stop an attack (I’m taking a good-faith approach that those who
are armed for self-defense do not wish to do harm beyond stopping an attacker).
On the other side, I was thinking about the body’s integrity being violated by
violence, and the psychic and social consequences of that. I imagined a person
missing an arm to violence. I was wondering about phantom sensations in
the missing limb, and about the experiences of someone trying to heal by making
the body whole again through the use of a prosthetic limb. Can mind inhabit the
inanimate? What relationship can a person claim to the now public place where
his or her limb should have been?

But as I thought further, it became clear that the project would go deeper. I
would shift away from “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”
to the heart of the Amendment: “the security of a free state.” What
is a securely free state? What does that mean intimately? How do we carry this
in our bodies? We live with mortal vulnerability, and with the possibility,
however statistically slight, of facing violent conflict. We look for ways to
live with this terror, particularly if we have already been wounded and our
trust has already been broken. The evolving project sets out on this deeper
quest. So when we approached Michael Pack, owner of Artificial Limb
Specialists, about a field trip to his site, I carried both my first intention
and the evolving question.

Michael’s work, as a designer of custom prosthetic devices, is that of a
life-changer. He works with clients, most of whom have suffered a traumatic
injury from war or accident (rather than the #1 cause for limb loss: diabetes)
for months or even years to get the right prosthetic fit. It truly makes the
difference of whether a person can live a full and free life or not. Danny
Lujan, a client of many years who was present on our Thursday night field trip,
said that his psychological recovery from the loss of his lower leg only began
when the limb fit perfectly and he didn’t need to think about it anymore. We
spent the evening learning what it takes to design prosthesis to fit perfectly —
to become an extension of the body — and speaking with Danny about his emotional
relationship with both his lost leg and his prosthetic one. We also got a tour
of the workshop — a sculptor’s delight — for casting and shaping these amazing
devices. Michael’s clients compete in triathlons, scuba dive, rock climb, and
play with grandchildren. Danny was able to move forward literally and figuratively
after his accident. He got a degree, found his wife, and has a rewarding job.
But he says the first several years were really hard. His sense of personal
security changed. He feels more vulnerable. He still feels the lost leg,
sometimes it still hurts. Michael explains that a patient needs to bond with
their prosthetic leg to move forward, and for some people, life events make it
so difficult to take a forward-looking view of  loss: This terrible thing
has happened, I will never the be same.  How will this cause me to grow?

We’ll be examining that question in more detail on the field trip on Saturday,
October 29th to St. Luke’s Behavioral Health. Check it out — there are
participatory events for post-traumatic growth.

This Sunday at 11:00 a.m. we’ll eat pastries at a sniper training range while
discussing letting one’s guard down with sniper training instructor William
Graves. Please contact Lekha Hileman Waitoller if you would like to join us
(480-965-0497; lwaitoll@mainex1.asu.edu)

Jennifer Nelson, Social Studies artist

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All images by Sean Deckert.

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Entry filed under: Art + Performance, Art Events, Art Trips, Artists at the Museum, ASU Art Museum, ASU Art Museum Press, ASU Art Museum special events, ASU Art Museum: Behind-the-scenes, People at ASU Art Museum, Random Acts of Art, Social Studies collaborative projects, video art. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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