Creativity with Insects - Insect Wallpaper

You have all seen patterns throughout your life - repetitions of shapes and colors, in dots or spirals. Most of these are iconic, like a candy cane, the order of rainbow colors, or the spots of a cheetah. Ever take a moment to look at the coloration of insects? The way they can camouflage themselves, evolving to match the tree bark for example. Or consuming toxic chemicals from plants to produce brilliant warning color patterns like the monarch butterfly.

Jennifer Angus, a professor in the Design Studies department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, has taken insect colors and shapes and creates magnificent installations based on another art media that we are all familiar with - wallpaper. "Ultimately, I am attempting to create a multilayered work in which pattern is the vehicle. My work is dependent upon the supposition that there is a cultural understanding of pattern. That understanding provides a framework or potential for a narrative." ~Angus

My undergraduate honors thesis (2014, http://www.brennalynnphoto.com/#!insect-macrophotography/iuyap) was inspired partially by her work. Each individual insect specimen has its unique coloration and integument (cuticle) patterns. Presenting the specimens to the general public in the hope of inspiring awe and wonder, as well as respect, for the insects that fly around us. Angus expanded the individuality of the specimen to create a community of design.

Her process is very involved. She first finds insect color and pattern that will portray a specific emotion depending on the installation theme. Her recent work has been inspired by the exciting Victorian era, exemplified by travel and exploration, as well as bringing back large numbers of collected specimens for display and study. Angus designs the pattern and chooses the colors for her installation, then she searches for the insects that would best portray her ideas.

Most of the insects come from Southwest Asia, where she has spent a lot of time interacting with the indigenous people. Because of the large number of insects needed for installations, she uses farm-reared insects as much as possible, though she will support the indigenous people if there is an insect not being farm-reared. She gets them in bulk, each insect individually packaged to reduce damage. Then she does what all entomologists do - she re-hydrates the fragile specimens so she can position the legs, antennae, and wings. This way each insect is positioned the same way, and can be inspected for any damage to the body.

The best part is that she reuses specimens in multiple exhibits, thus reducing the number of insects that would have to be killed in order to create her 70 exhibitions since 2002. Her whole journey in creating an exhibition is very sustainable and helps start conversation about the sustainability and environmental practices and principle of collecting.

Next comes the fun part (in my opinion) - pinning the insects onto the walls! Luckily she has a team that aids in this extensive manual labor, from packing the pinned specimens for transport to precisely pinning the insects in the correct patterns throughout the gallery. I would have loved to see her installation at my Alma Mater, Lawrence University. It is my goal to see one of her exhibitions in person soon.

While her exhibitions are purely spectacular in their own right, her dedication to preserving the natural world reaches further than an installation in a closed space. Angus promotes the understanding of the connections in life that insects hold together. Through interviews with press as well as with museum curators, Angus talks about the importance of insects, they way she has used sustainable practices for her own work, and encourages further exploration into the natural world. This, I think, is what makes Jennifer Angus an all-around inspiring artist, and I hope you further explore her work and publications at her website http://www.jenniferangus.com/index.html.

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