Insects. Bugs. Pests.
It depends on perspective.
For professor and artist Jennifer Angus, insects are the medium through which she expresses a rich curiosity and life-long interest in pattern. Not unlike a sculptor using clay, or a painter choosing watercolor, Angus sees beyond material – in this case insects – and creates an experience that is, at once, stunning and startling.
As a professor in the Textiles and Fashion Design program in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Angus teaches in the area of surface design, mentors studio-based graduate students, leads projects using design to enhance well-being as part of 4W: Women, Well-being, Wisconsin, World, travels the globe researching indigenous textiles, authored a children’s book In Search of Goliathus Hercules, and developed the educational computer game Whack a Weevil. It’s safe to say Professor Angus is prolific.
Jennifer Angus is one of nine contemporary artists invited to participate in the inaugural exhibition upon reopening of the prestigious Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Each artist created a site-specific installation to transform the newly-renovated space into an immersive experience.
For Professor Angus, that invitation became In the Midnight Garden, an homage to the humble insect and its essential role in the ecosystem. “The extensive loss of honey bees and other species is alarming,” says Angus. “The skull in this particular installation symbolizes man’s mortality so closely tied to the environment. The installation’s title references the doomsday clock. Each of us has a responsibility to take action to slow the hands of that clock.”
There are more than 5,000 insects individually-pinned to the walls of the Renwick. Each was purchased from resources in North America, Europe and Asia. Whether cicadas, weevils, beetles or grasshoppers, Angus does not waver in her commitment to strengthen the livelihood of indigenous peoples who collect the insects and the prosperity of the protected forests that comprise their original homes. The insects she uses are considered a renewable resource because they quickly reproduce. “Most insects that are endangered are suffering because of loss of habitat, not because of over-collecting,” says Angus.
Each of the 5,000 insects is carefully and individually rehydrated in water to relax and release their wings and feet, allowing them to be more easily pinned into place. On average it takes 5-6 minutes per insect. And no, they are not colored, retouched or altered in any fashion. “Their natural color is so beautiful. I hope visitors become curious [about their habitat] and consider their own environment and their behavior.”