Earl Swope's Post: One Man's Journey Through PTSD


During First Thursday on Sept. 1, a cover of the song ”Hurt” played as a line of people grew outside the gate of the Idaho State Historical Museum's Pioneer Village to see Post, a mixed-media and performance piece created by and staring local artist-firefighter and former Marine Earl Swope.

The event drew a steady crowd—causing Swope to add performances—who were no doubt intrigued to see Swope's artistic representation of his post traumatic stress disorder. The rendition of the song was slow and mellow with xylophonic pings, and as it faded out, Swope’s voice filled the air in the first room of the exhibit, with a looping statement: "Sounds transmit five times faster in water than air."

Barefoot and dressed in off-white, Kalliope (portrayed by Leslie Thompson) served as guide through the performance, starting with a "drowning room," where video and audio informed the viewer of Swope’s PTSD-causing, near-death experience: He was trapped under ice and actually suffocated himself so that he wouldn't aspirate water. Kalliope danced and displayed Swope's cut-open dry suit and a redundant air-supply valve that malfunctioned.

In the next section of the exhibit, stacked TVs showed images of Swope wandering listlessly, evoking hopelessness. An audio interview of him played in non-sequential order, looping, repeating and breaking, giving the effect of being trapped in time while Kalliope and Swope danced slowly in front of the screens, in leading and pushing movements with the fluidity of water.

BW caught up with Swope after one of the night's performances to talk to him about surviving the near-drowning and then subsequently living with PTSD.

“I realized out of all of this that this was actually a gift,” said Swope. He referred to the two years following the incident as an, “ugly shit storm,” but one in which he began to own up to the creativity digging to breach his surface.

“It really caused me to confront my creative side and to say, 'You know what? I’m supposed to be an artist,'” Swope said. He also shared that his hope for the work is that by going through the artistic reproduction of his trials with PTSD, families of sufferers may “get some empathy for their loved ones who are going though it and let people suffering [with PTSD] go through and realize that they’re not the only one.”

Check out video of Post below.