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“In The Midnight Garden,” Jennifer Angus' installation at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery: An elaborate site-specific work that comprised of 1,800 preserved insects arranged in geometric patterns throughout the Great Hall of Glenview, the historic home at the Hudson River Museum, in Yonkers, NY. This installation was part of the exhibition

Dying of Curiosity, Hudson River Museum

Insects arranged to mimic wallpaper.

Memento Vitae, Shelburne Museum

Insects in geometric patterns

In the Midnight Garden, Shelburne Museum

The walls of this installation were painted red using the pigment “carmine” derived from dried and crushed cochineal insects.

Drawers from the Cabinet of Wonder

Featured in the centre of the "In the Midnight Garden" installation

Insects In Bell Jars

Arranged in large jars slightly above eye level

Insects pinned to pillars

Insects in circular patterns next to the jelly preserves.

Jelly preserves on Shelves

Mimicking how prehistoric creatures are seen in amber

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Showcase 20 Jun 2018

Meet Jennifer Angus, the university professor who creates extraordinary art using insects

Jennifer Angus, a professor of Textile Design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a passion for design patterns, enjoys storytelling and happens to have over 20,000 insects in her personal possession. Jennifer is an artist who specialises in site-specific installations and has held exhibitions in various spaces and museums. They all feature her medium of choice – insects, that are carefully arranged and displayed on walls, or anthropomorphised in various sets and scenes. She is perhaps most well-known for her wallpaper inspired installations where she creates repeat patterns with insects.

Researching tribal clothing earlier in her career, Jennifer spent several years in the Golden Triangle (the area where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet). Here, she came upon a “singing shawl”, a garment embellished with metallic beetle wings, worn by young women in the Karen tribe. Jennifer explains, “It was very exciting to find something so naturally beautiful, essentially nature’s sequins.”

“In The Midnight Garden,” Jennifer Angus' installation at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery: An elaborate site-specific work that comprised of 1,800 preserved insects arranged in geometric patterns throughout the Great Hall of Glenview, the historic home at the Hudson River Museum, in Yonkers, NY. This installation was part of the exhibition

Later on, during an art residency in Japan, she started dressing insects, given to her by some local children, in small costumes and mounting them on boards so they appeared to be standing. “I had the rhino beetles modeling spring and autumn kimono fashions, dung beetles as sumo wrestlers, and so on.”

Her interest sparked, creating repeat patterns using insects seemed like an obvious next step from her photo-based works that often employed patterns to communicate ideas. Jennifer started pinning insects to walls, imitating textile patterns and wallpaper, which then lead to creating detailed sets to display these insects.

Dying of Curiosity, Hudson River Museum

Insects arranged to mimic wallpaper.

Memento Vitae, Shelburne Museum

Insects in geometric patterns

Insects as Personalities

For her exhibition at the Newark Museum, “Insecta Fantasia”, Jennifer created dioramas out of beeswax (an insect by-product) in which insects played roles in scenes from various fairy tales. In other works, Jennifer covered vintage dollhouses, and the furniture inside, with beeswax while insects were seen taking part in daily activities.

In the Midnight Garden, Shelburne Museum

The walls of this installation were painted red using the pigment “carmine” derived from dried and crushed cochineal insects.

“In The Midnight Garden,” Jennifer's installation  at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, featured a 100 drawer cabinet of curiosities, each drawer encasing its own scene in which insects appeared to be engaged in various human-like tasks. The walls of this installation were painted red using the pigment “carmine” derived from dried and crushed cochineal insects. People are usually surprised to learn about carmine and how commonly it is (often used in cosmetics and food colourants). More recently, Jennifer used cochineal to make “jelly preserves” to suspend insects in jars, mimicking how one sees prehistoric creatures in amber.

Drawers from the Cabinet of Wonder

Featured in the centre of the "In the Midnight Garden" installation

Jennifer expresses, “I think that artists and writers often anthropomorphise creatures so that the viewer/reader can relate and imagine them leading lives parallel to our own. It’s a strategy to create both insight and empathy.” She goes on to mention that children’s literature is particularly rich in anthropomorphised characters. Surely, this plays a part in the childlike wonder viewers often experience, visiting one of her installations.

Insects In Bell Jars

Arranged in large jars slightly above eye level

“The walls of this installation were painted red using the pigment “carmine” derived from dried and crushed cochineal insects.”

Some insects featured in certain installations aren’t an existing species at all, but one of Jennifer’s own creations. The fragile insects are stored and reused, while the those that break are repaired. Those beyond repair are collected and used to create Jennifer's special “hybrid creatures”.

The Intention of Insect Art

While many admire her work, not everyone appreciates the use of once living creatures for art. Jennifer responds to all the emails she receives from people expressing their views on the matter. There are, however, more ethical notions inspiring her work than one may think. Jennifer recognises that there will be dire consequences should insects drastically reduce in numbers. While abundant, a serious threat to insects is deforestation. She goes on to explain that 70% of the food we consume is the direct result of insect pollination and that our world would become a massive trash heap were it not for insects decomposing biomatter. Through her work, Jennifer hopes to spread awareness about the realities of habitat loss and sees her work as “a strategic means to alter people’s impression of insects.”

Insects pinned to pillars

Insects in circular patterns next to the jelly preserves.

Jelly preserves on Shelves

Mimicking how prehistoric creatures are seen in amber

Currently preparing for the Fragile Earth exhibition, Jennifer will create a multi-room site-specific installation at the Florence Griswold Museum, where her work will feature next to the work of other artists inspired by the environment and nature.” Additionally, she has an installation at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont that closes on August 26th.

For more information about Jennifer and her work, you can click here.