The Work of Jennifer Angus:
A Closer Look
In the November/December 2005 issue, Jessica Hemmings writes about the current trend for wallpaper to be thoughtful and interactive. In her article, she discusses a number of artists who are using wallpaper to cross the boundaries between decoration and expression by embedding surprising images within traditional patterns and challenging viewers’ expectations. Among the artists included is Jennifer Angus. In museum settings, Angus uses real insects to create beautiful and intricate patterns inspired by wallpaper and textiles. Here we have created an online gallery of three of her installations from 2004.
While Angus’s work has evolved in recent years away from traditional fiber techniques and materials, her present installation work with insects shares a common sensibility with the fiber processes she was trained in. In her work, bugs are pinned directly to museum and gallery walls in patterns that reference both textiles and wallpapers. A common theme runs through this work: the interplay of the feelings of comfort experienced when viewing familiar patterns and the realization on closer inspection that the comforting familiar is actually made up of insects, something most people feel apprehension for. Angus uses real insects that she gets from reputable insect-specimen dealers and utilizes their unique shapes and colors to create patterns reminiscent of everything from toile to kimono fabrics.
Jennifer Angus’s work has appeared in Fiberarts magazine many times over the years. Angus’s early work of stitched and beaded fabric photo collages first appeared in Fiberarts in a review of Perspectives from the Rim: The Next Generation, an international juried competition for students from the United States and Japan [January/February 1992, pages 55 and 58]. Angus had just finished her MFA at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Next, Angus appeared in the article “The International Amalgamated Threadbenders Union” by Susan Warner Keene, in our November/December 1993 issue, pages 52–56. This article discussed the exhibition group formed by Angus, Lou Cabeen, and Mary Ann Hickey, all three graduates from the Art Institute of Chicago. Her embellished photographic work next appeared on the cover of our Summer 1997 issue and was the subject of the feature article “Observing the Observed” by Anne McPherson [pages 35–39]. Her work last appeared in our September/October 1999 issue, page 80. Pictured was her work That's Not Cricket, It's Sasa!, a piece from her Insect Series. While still embellished photography, it was a stylistic step towards her current work as she used insects to create patterns and scenes on miniature blankets to be displayed on doll-sized beds.
Below: Chiyogami, 2004; Heteropteryx dilatata, Phyllium giganteum, Kallima anchus, Lophacris cristata, Pompoina imperatorial, Eupholus Bennetti, various grasshoppers, and stag beetles; 8' 6" x 126'. Photos: Walter Manzig. From EUPHOLUS BENNETTI and Other Work by Jennifer Angus, a 2004 exhibition at Artcite, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
This work is inspired by a kind of Japanese screen-printed decorative paper based on the bright kimono textiles from an area known as Yuzen. The whimsical and colorful patterns contrast with common feelings about insects. The installation itself addresses the tension created by the beauty that is observed in the pattern and the apprehension felt towards insects.
Below: Goliathus Hercules, 2004; Heteropteryx dilatata, Phyllium giganteum, Kallima anchus, Lophacris cristata, Pompoina imperatorial, Eupholus Bennetti, various grasshoppers, and stag beetles; 39' x 35'. Images courtesy of the John Michael Kohler Art Center. The installation was on display at the John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. A detail of the installation is featured on the cover of our November/December 2005 issue.
This work is inspired by Victorian ideas about collecting insects. Angus created a Victorian feel for the installation, paying homage to the heyday of insect collection. To do this, Angus covered the outer walls in an insect toile, showing insects flying kites and walking tightropes; according to Angus, anthropomorphizing animals was a common Victorian strategy to increase their public appeal. The title of the installation, Goliathus Hercules, represents a fictitious insect Angus has collected (she actually created the creature using body parts of other insects). The specimen sits in a glass case in a small room in the center of the installation, creating the feeling of a true oddity being on display.
Below: Carpet Beetles: Patterns of the Orient, 2004; insects, pins, paint, foam board. Photos: Lawrence Gawel. This installation was on display at the Robert Hillestad Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
This work marks a departure for Angus. After five years of working with pinned insects, this is the first installation in which she utilized the floor. The installation plays on the existing connection between carpets and beetles. To create these “carpets,” Angus researched patterns found in traditional rug-weaving areas around the world. Angus sees an interrelation between collections of textiles and insects. Museums often have in their collections rugs created by tribal groups that no longer exist, and they also display insects that have become extinct, often because of contact with outside groups or overcollection.
Tekke Carpet (with detail), 2004; Tosena albata, Tosena splendida, Angamiana floridula, Tropidacris dux, pins, foam board; 3 1/2' x 8'.
Carpet Beetles: Patterns of the Orient, installation view.
Tibetan Rug (with detail), 2004; Heteropteryx dilatata, Phyllium giganteum, Pompoina imperatorial, pins, foam board; 3' x 8'.