A street view into Jennifer Angus installation reveals the ethereal figures of insects adrift in jars of radiant floral-tinted solutions Like stained glass windows...
A street view into Jennifer Angus’ installation reveals the ethereal figures of insects adrift in jars of radiant, floral-tinted solutions. Like stained glass windows that filter out harshness, they infuse the room and all that it shelters with a sense of sacred quietude. A vast collection of natural history specimens and cultural artifacts spill across the space. This presentation recalls those private museums known as “cabinets of curiosities” showcased from the Renaissance through Baroque and Victorian periods. These collections were sometimes set within cabinets or in study rooms as immersive environments with authentic materials and reproductions of exotic wonders from newly discovered lands. The tableaux here suggests a microcosm of our world in freeze-frame, intimating a moment stilled in time, as if everything is about to begin, or end. A Victorian dining room in a state of shabby gentility has walls washed in saturated pink hues that could be those seen at dawn or dusk, extracted from the coloration of Cochineal insects. There, Pennsylvania taxidermy – both predators and their prey – gather peaceably together, breaking bread riddled with insects who are equally honored guests. For Angus, the scene represents an ideal for humans to aspire to: an invitation to work out differences and solve problems congenially, over a shared meal. Inside glass cases, small worlds within worlds show self-aware, dressed-up insects, viewing Victorian-era microscope slides of their fellow insects as if reliving family memories. A multitude of other dried and preserved, patterned and colorful insects who once traversed the terrains and flew the skies of far-off places appear here everywhere. They rest under bell jars amid delicate beeswax flowers and alight on walls in formations that mimic decorative designs. This vision carries nostalgic impressions of summer and its finale, of hearing cicadas in the sun, like dreams that rise and fade – songs for a world that’s passing away.
Angus seeks to encourage us to save this endangered world we share with insects, whose existence and our own are inextricably entwined. The Museum of All Things focuses on insects because Angus understands that they are everything to us; without them, humankind could not survive past six weeks on Earth. They are vital connectors in the food chain for all life forms; pollinating our crops and enabling necessary decomposition for environmental continuity. Yet, because of our short-sighted ravages, their rapid population decline is a serious global problem. Entire ecosystems are being destroyed as insects are threatened by pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change. In her work, Angus brings attention to our urgent need to safeguard these essential creatures. The installation highlights their intricate beauty and encourages empathy with them while critiquing our follies with parables that remind us of the fragile mortality we share with the living world. A striking image appearing on a wall here reveals a gathering of insects that form into the outline and features of a human skull. Its spectral presence emanates a chilling warning for us to protect our home and all we hold dear within it before time runs out.
– Text by Alice Winn
Jennifer Angus is a professor in the Design Studies department at the University of Wisconsin –Madison. She received her education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (BFA) and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA). Jennifer has exhibited her work internationally including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Spain. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and Wisconsin Arts Board grants. Most recently she received the inaugural Forward Art Prize, a new unrestricted award for outstanding women artists of Wisconsin.
Angus’ exhibition In the Midnight Garden, was part of Wonder the inaugural exhibition that reopened the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. She was one of nine artists selected by curator Nicholas Bell for this landmark exhibition.