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 Pamela Caughey  (20/21st century)

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Lived/Active: Montana/Wisconsin      Known for: terrorist themed encaustic painting, installations, photography, printmaking

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
In a post 9/11 world, the global war on terrorism influences our thinking and casts a perpetual shadow that is inescapable. We live in a state of disquietude. Amidst unspeakable events and traumas, we experience censored media, invasion of privacy in the name of heightened "homeland security," eroded freedom of speech, and constant rhetoric serving the politics of fear. Art in the age of terrorism is an attempt to bring interpretation and meaning to these timely issues by portraying multiple perspectives, which address the philosophical, social, political and cultural interventions that the war against terrorism has created. It encourages dialogue between various world views and political sources. When images promote meaningful discussion and contemplation, we are given the opportunity to better understand situations that are beyond words.

I was inspired to explore the ramifications of terrorism when thinking about personal encounters with terrorism related to places our family had lived or visited. Shortly before my husband attended a conference in Madrid, Spain, terrorists bombed the commuter train system, killing almost 200 people in 2004. When suicide bombers attacked the London Underground between the Kings Cross and Russell Square stations in 2005, the location was unnervingly close to home; my husband and I had lived for more than a year between these two stations, right above the explosions. And, with close relatives in Nagasaki, I have also been keenly aware of the destructive power of atomic weapons: bodies vaporized by the nuclear bomb left permanent afterimages of human shadows etched on building walls in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

For the above reasons, I found myself drawn to the topic of terrorism, and began to ask myself questions. This body of work seeks to respond to and answer just some of them.
Disquietude seeks to explore the wide range of psychological, social, and global ramifications of living in the age of terrorism. The unifying thread running through the work is the ambiguity in each piece, offering a safe haven for each viewer to consider and reflect upon the many repercussions of terrorism, before, during and after it has occurred. The imagery represents the dualities we must face in today's climate; life vs. death, security vs. vulnerability, anxiety vs. peace, hope vs. despair. My interest in diverse forms of artistic expression has resulted in a wide range of visual stimuli. My aim is to present a multi-faceted approach to the many ways we interpret the status of our well-being at any given time, amidst a constant barrage of media referencing the last, current or impending attack from terrorists--at home or abroad.

Pamela Caughey

The following information by Joe Nickell is text online, posted November 26, 2010 from about an exhibition by the artist:

"Hamilton artist's UM exhibit examines influence of terrorism, fear"
?By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian |
Posted: Friday, November 26, 2010 9:40 am

"Disquietude" on display through Dec. 16
Hamilton resident Pamela Caughey's exhibit, "Disquietude," will be on display Nov. 30-Dec. 16 in the Gallery of Visual Art, located in the Social Science Building on the University of Montana campus. An opening reception will take place Dec. 2 from 5-7 p.m. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit

In the photo, Pamela Caughey steps up to a small, black-and-white image hung on a wall and speaks with the cheerful, casually informative tone of a schoolteacher leading a tour: "This is my car bomb."

Nearby hang images overlaid by the chemical formula for sarin gas, the ingredients for a bomb, and blueprints for high-profile facilities, including the World Trade Center in New York, a football stadium, and an amusement park.

It's the kind of information one might imagine would be littered around a terrorist's workshop. But don't worry: Caughey isn't a terrorist. In fact, the overriding theme of her provocative art exhibit at the University of Montana's Gallery of Visual Arts is that worry, rather than actual threat, is the most insidious element influencing our sense of security in the homeland.

"The whole idea of homeland security is a façade; I don't believe there is such a thing," says the Hamilton artist, who produced the exhibit as the final step in earning her master's of fine arts degree at UM.

"I'm just trying to give a snapshot of our insecure society trying to feel secure and be safe; while at the same time, every single day, how can we feel peaceful and content when there's this constant reminder of what's boiling under the surface?," she continues. "It's meant to be a reflection on the psychological climate we're in and how it affects us."

To those ends, Caughey spent the better part of the past two years building the components of her aesthetic bombshell, which features everything from encaustic wax paintings, to a video projected through a backpack, to a large wall covered in knives, corkscrews, and other small, pointy items.

The last of these cuts to the quick of Caughey's concern.

Titled Knives, the installation features more than 300 items that were confiscated at airport security checkpoints across America. Caughey says she began collecting the items via eBay auctions more than a year ago ("I just typed in 'NTSA confiscated knives,' and page upon page came up," she recalls), as a way of reflecting on the gulf that exists between fear and actual danger.

"The most ironic of these items to me are the ones made of plastic or the ones that were actually taken from children," she says, pointing to a small, pink pocketknife-like kit. "This is a Barbie knife with a sewing kit and a vial of perfume built into it. I was thinking, what did that little girl feel when this big, serious-looking guy in a uniform took that away from her?
"As you look at these things - or when you yourself have your knife taken away - it causes you to feel everything from irony to irritation to embarrassment; you run the gamut of feelings. I want people to reflect on how they feel when their knife is taken away, and how that relates to our security as a whole."

In contrast to the sharp edges that dominate that installation, most of Caughey's exhibit features soft lines, hazy imagery, and cool, subtle tones. Perhaps the most surprising element of the exhibit is its undercurrent of beauty.

Caughey says that part is purely personal and almost unavoidable.

"Because my aesthetic lies in beauty and I can't help that that always comes up in my work, I thought there's the challenge: to do a show about something so horrible and yet bring in beauty," she says. "So what I'm trying to do with the beauty, through shadows and shape and textures and beautiful colors, is create something inviting to come and look at - but hopefully look deeper and see that our comfort and security is a very superficial thing, just as beauty is superficial."

Certainly, Caughey herself finds nothing remotely beautiful about terrorism. In fact, her inspiration for the exhibit came largely from personal near-misses with the horror of terrorist attacks.

In the 1980s, she and her husband lived in London, in a neighborhood that was "exactly right where the (London Underground) terminals were blown up" by terrorists on July 7, 2007. Then, in March of 2004, Caughey's husband was preparing for a business trip to Madrid when terrorists blew up four commuter trains there, killing 191 people.

"You think it'll never happen to you, but those experiences made me realize we are vulnerable, and I worry more than ever about my husband traveling," said Caughey. "This most recent scare about something happening in Europe, well, he's going there soon. I'm doing this show on terrorism, and hoping he's going to be OK."

Ultimately, despite the aesthetic appeal of the art on the walls, Caughey hopes that beauty is the last thing on the minds of people as they leave the exhibit.?"I hope people don't end with, oh, this is a really pretty show," she says. "If they do that, I think I've failed."


Biography from Missoula Art Museum:
Pamela Caughey grew up in Grafton, Wisconsin and earned a BS in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA at University of Montana.

She had a two-person exhibition in 2010 at the Gallery of Visual Art, Missoula. Caughey's aesthetic is strongly rooted in beauty and accomplished in the rich, subtle layers of her encaustic painting style.

Her work is housed in the permanent collection of Montana Museum of Art and Culture. She lives in Hamilton.

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