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 (B.F.A.) and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (M.F.A.). Jennifer has exhibited her work internationally including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Spain. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and Wisconsin Arts Board grants. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison she has received annual grants from the Graduate School as well a Vilas Associate Award, the Emily Mead Baldwin-Bascom Professorship in the Creative Arts and most recently a Romnes Fellowship. Her exhibition “A Terrible Beauty” at the Textile Museum of Canada was selected as “Exhibition of the Year” by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries in 2006.
For the past ten years, I have been creating installations composed of insects pinned directly to a wall in repeating patterns which reference both textiles and wallpaper. When viewers enter one of my installations, they are greeted with something they think they know, that is, a patterned wallpaper which could be in anyone's home. However upon closer examination, one discovers that it is entirely made up of insects. A tension is created by the beauty one observes in the pattern and the apprehension we feel toward insects. I know very few people who welcome insects into their home. In fact, we have a certain hysteria about them. Culturally, insects are a sign of dirtiness and disease. My work explores ideas of home and comfort. It alludes to the unseen world of dust mites, germs and bacteria, both friendly and not.
Despite this apprehension, I think it would be fair to say that the most common reaction to my work is wonder. While we as adults may harbour negative feelings about insects if we think back to childhood, probably most of us at one time attempted to collect caterpillars and butterflies. Indeed, there are plenty of famous insects in children's literature, from the caterpillar on the hookah in "Alice in Wonderland" to the insect companions in "James and the Giant Peach." I mention this because something I am trying to capture in my work is the magic we experience as children. I would like people to discover it once again when they see my work, and for a moment just stand there and say "Wow!"
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.
My recent installations take inspiration from based the Victorian era, for it was a time of excitement. It was the age of travel, exploration, scientific discovery and the dawning of photography. Both adults and children were introduced to the natural world through a large number of educational publications in which various species of wildlife from insects to elephants were anthropomorphized so as to have greater appeal to the general reading public. Voracious collecting of all manner of plants and wildlife was extremely popular at that time. In my mind, the elephant’s foot umbrella stand is the quintessential object that defines the era, for it is exotic yet grotesque. For the insatiable Victorian collector, nothing was sacrosanct. That said, rest assured that while I may allude to threatened species, none of the insects I use are endangered. The vast majority if insects on the endangered species list are there because of loss of habitat, not over collection. The insects I use are farmed or collected by local indigenous peoples providing them a livelihood. Since most of these species come from a rain forest environment the people collecting will not cut down the jungle which provides their livelihood. It is ecologically sound. They are a renewable resource.