Last Wednesday’s art exhibition, titled “A Wing and a Prayer,” gave an up close look at over eight thousand unique insects. Artist Jennifer Angus is the mastermind behind this creation, and she uses her love of patterns to arrange beautiful sculptures on the walls with only insects.
Jennifer Angus is a professor in the Design Studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has stated that her inspiration for using insects in her work came from her study of textiles. In an interview, she recalled her time spent in Thailand doing research on minority tribal dress.
“This area is sort of the foothills of the Himalayas and there are many different ethnic minority groups that live there. In a single day’s walk you could walk to three different tribes and they maintain their language, their customs, and their dress–which is very distinctive from each other. I was researching their traditional dress and I came across a shawl, and on the fringe of the shawl they had strung these hard outside wings of Elytra beetles. […] I really never thought of insects as being beautiful-other than butterflies and that’s so obvious. I was just amazed, to me they were almost magical. I was captivated.”
She goes on to profess that although her enthusiasm for insects came through her interest in textiles, her true passion is pattern itself. One day the inspiration struck to combine her engrossment with insects and her love of patterns, and the rest is history.
Angus had her first art show in the early 2000’s, in a small gallery located in Toronto. She recalls the moments of dawning recognition on people’s faces when they realized that they were, in fact, staring at individual bugs, instead of wallpaper, as they had assumed. Needless to say, their cognizance was always accompanied by utter shock.
“I realized then that I had something powerful,” Angus said. “And I’ve just kind of taken that and [ran] with it.”
While her intentions originated from her love for both the fascinating insects and also patterns, they have grown into a much deeper, environmentally-conscious message to the world.
“In the ten or fifteen years I’ve been working with [the insects] the environment has actually changed quite a bit and we know more and more about climate change…global warming. Insects are most definitely a renewable resource, but what isn’t renewable is their habitat, and we all know how fast the rainforest is being cut down. […] So, we’ve got the skulls as a warning and then we have these eyes-which I was thinking about the Evil Eye, which is a symbol we use to protect us. So, the idea of protecting is really important to this exhibition.”
She has been reusing her insects for over fifteen years.
Later on in the interview, Angus stated that she has always thought of art as “a kind of compulsion.” Her journey in finding herself and her passion was not easy, but the satisfaction that came with creating something she loved made everything worthwhile. When asked what advice she would give to young artists, she affirmed that you have to “develop a thick skin.”
Criticism is a given in any aspect of life, especially when it comes to art, so it is crucial for an artist to believe in themselves and their work. One interesting point Angus brought up was our tendency as a society to overlook art, or disregard it as being irrelevant, when in fact we judge ancient civilizations by their art and architecture.
“I think that people see art as being an extra, kind of frivolous thing, but I think it really enhances the quality of life. And I think that is very important,” Angus said.
– Taylor Watson