Interview: Jennifer Angus Designs Walls of Insects

Mar. 14, 2009
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Jennifer Angus, an artist who encases rooms in hand printed wallpaper, showcases her chosen field of expertise⎯Design Studies. Otherwise engaged at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a professor, Angus enjoys every semester teaching students print and dye or wallpaper, textile and apparel design. Two thousand and nine allowed her a sabbatical year where she contributed to over six exhibitions across the country, including the newly opened Haggerty Museum of Art’s  “Current Tendencies,” with her unusual site-specific installations. With the large, expansive space Angus inhabits at the Haggerty, the massive installation challenged her on several levels. In Milwaukee to apply the finishing touches, Angus pauses from working on her 30-foot square room to explain her unique artwork, which involves pinning dried insects in patterns across these tall-papered walls.

Q: You’re wallpaper is exceptional. Where do your designs come from?
A: My wallpaper is hand printed in three colors to give it a multi-dimensional, layered look. But a professional paperhanger pastes it up over foam core boards, which is then applied to the walls here [at the Haggerty].The designs are appropriated from Victorian era science prints, specifically Episodes of Insect Life from 1850. Then, whether teeny tiny engravings or pictures of anthropomorphized insects, I use Photoshop to tweak, change, or collage them.

Q: Why are the insects so inspiring to you?
A:  Most people have a fear of insects, so when you come into the room you confront
your fear. When I apply the insects in patterns, people seem O.K. with this. But when they [the insects] are in organic forms the people become more uncomfortable. The organized patterns offers a sense of control, when the insects are in a swarm, a natural pattern, they seem to say come and get me.

Q: Where do you get all your insects?
A: I get my insects from an insect specimen dealer. Most people want two⎯a male and a female. I need many more. There are approximately 4,000 insects in the room, all tropical varieties.  Then when you get them they have to be relaxed so you hydrate them in water to release their wings and feet. I can do [relax] about 12 weevils in an hour. In this exhibit there are three types of cicadas, Madagascar Grasshoppers, metallic beetle wings, weevils and two insects called a Moving Leaf and a Thorny Stick.

Q: Your wallpaper uses a border or wainscoting at the base of the wall. Was this planned for a reason or purely decorative?

A: Wainscoting relates to a parlour, living room, or study inside a house, which relates to control where this wild thing with the insects happens above it⎯like a ruined house where nature overwhelms it.  Insects are the most numerous animals on earth, millions more than human, and are so resilient they outlast anything…drought, hurricanes, wars.

Q: Do you put anything else inside the room when it’s finished?
A: There’s a telescope and a teleidiscope on a table in here for the viewers to use. The teleidiscope fractures the image so you’ll be able to look at the room and create your own patterns, pattern over pattern. And depending on what angle you look at the walls, the colors of the insects, some in iridescent shades, change and appear different. I really tried to do something different here and the size of the tall walls makes it exciting, becoming monumental.


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