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Meet Jennifer Angus, An Artist Whose Medium Is Insects [Slideshow]

Working with an inventory of 30,000 bugs, Jennifer Angus arranges them into looping decorative patterns that'll probably make you a little queasy.

Not furry, cuddly or by any means cute, bugs always get a bad rap. At the sight of them, people reach for rolled-up newspapers and insect sprays. But to textile artist Jennifer Angus, insects are simply material for art. She's so comfortable with them that she'll handle bugs while eating a bag of chips. "It sounds a bit gross, I know," she says, laughing.

Angus hopes to highlight how important bugs are to life.

Since 1999, Angus has been using thousands of brightly colored insects to create kaleidoscopic patterns on the wall, thus short-circuiting our initial instinct for revulsion and replacing it with amazement. Angus has exhibited in art museums and science museums around North America. Her latest exhibition All Creatures Great and Small has visitors ewwww-ing and ahhh-ing over approximately 5,000 insects at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles now through September 11.

"Part of my work is the rehabilitation of the image of insects — that insects are so vitally important. We need insects to pollinate flowers that, in turn, produce fruit. We need insects for decomposition. Without insects, I don't think we could exist," says Angus. Her other goal is to elicit wonder. "I want people to walk in a room and say, ?Wow! I've never seen anything like this before. We don't have very many ?wow" moments anymore in this age of Internet.?

She first discovered the decorative potential of insects in the '80s while on a research trip to the Golden Triangle — a region overlapping China, Laos, and Myanmar — where she found the shawls of the Karen tribe lined with greenish iridescent jewel beetles. It was only years later when a fortunate miscommunication with curator Sarah Quinton led her to put her passion for textiles and the beauty of insects together.

Angus has over 30,000 bugs, which cost between 50 cents to $25.

"She misunderstood me. I was talking about wanting to do something with the pattern on the insects. But she said to me, ?It's a real good idea to put insects in patterns on the wall." I went, "Yeah?.That is a good idea.?"
Angus now has over 30,000 bugs in her inventory, which cost anywhere from 50 cents to $25 and gets used over and over again in different exhibitions. They range in size from as long your hand to a small as the last joint of your pinky. There are no butterflies or moths in Angus's inventory. She works with hardier bugs like grasshoppers with pinkish-purple wings, electric blue weevils, polka-dot weevils, leaf mimics, and thorny stick insects (which really look like how they're named) that can withstand the wear and tear of repeated pinning. Some of the weevils in her show have been in use since she first began. Despite what visitors often think, Angus doesn't paint over any of her bugs. She also doesn't use endangered species in her work, preferring to sleep well at night, thank you.

When creating patterns for her insects, Angus is usually inspired by the history of the exhibition space, which the artist says are usually converted masions, or new ideas sparked from her previous exhibitions.

Working with a floor plan and photos of all insects to scale on Photoshop, Angus meticulously lays out where each mandala, honeycomb, or zigzag pattern will go. From there, her well-practiced team installs a grid of thread in each location and puts up an entomological wonderland set in a Victorian-era sitting room in just 7 to 10 days.

Ironically, Angus's long familiarity with insects has made her immune to the sense of wonder she wants to instill in her viewers: "That wow moment" I really don't experience that anymore, so I really have to live vicariously through other people.?

Add New Comment


  • Sarah Alvarez-Tostado

    "How is urban and suburban encroachment affecting wildlife big and small in your neighborhood? It is easy to take up the case of larger mammals, birds and fish but what about smaller creatures who have an important role in the ecosystem to play be it pollinating flowers or helping in the decomposition of various matter?"

    Apparently, they have an important role in decorating our homes and art galleries and living beings have become media and it is justified by the fact that there are lots of bugs and that they are "sustainably harvested". I am not sure what that means and indigenous people in a lot of places are poor and I can't trust that just because they are indigenous that they will automatically do the right thing. Indigenous people are people and they are faced with making a living.

    Trust me, I love art and I love this Victorian Naturalist look and I AM an indigenous person. I have some ethical problems with using mass quantities of living beings as media.

  • Cheryl A. Beaudoin

    I hope you get this message two years later... Just found this page and I want you to know that your hope has come to pass. I was fascinated when I visited MOSI in Tampa Florida and saw your works. Absolutely fascinating. I'm going to share with a great bug photographer. Thank you for all. blessings..Cheryl

  • Sasabug

    On her web site Angus writes

    None of these species are
    endangered. They have been purchased through reputable insect specimen dealers
    throughout North America, Europe and Asia. They are initially collected
    by indigenous peoples who live in and around the rain forest. These people
    have a vested interest in protecting the rain forest for harvesting insects
    provides a livelihood.

    Furthermore it is ecologically sound for they are a renewable resource.
    Ever heard the saying that where there is one cockroach there are 100?
    It's true and this applies to the vast majority of insect species. They
    reproduce at a tremendous rate. Unlike the Amazon which is being cut down
    to provide pastureland for cattle, Asian forests with the exception of
    some parts of Indonesia, are quite well protected. Everyone recognizes
    that forests are the lungs of the planet. We need them. One could make
    the argument that those harvesting insects are in fact protecting the
    jungle. One should be aware that virtually every insect on the endangered
    species list is there because of loss of habitat, not over collecting.
    A large number of butterflies and some beetles are now being farm raised
    with the express purpose of marketing to collectors.


    Many people who visit my exhibitions were never aware that such unusual
    insects exist. I hope that my exhibition will get them excited and perhaps
    they will be motivated to get involved with one of the many of the rain
    forest preservation projects out there. I would also like people to think
    about their own environment and behavior. How is urban and suburban encroachment
    affecting wildlife big and small in your neighborhood? It is easy to take
    up the case of larger mammals, birds and fish but what about smaller creatures
    who have an important role in the ecosystem to play be it pollinating
    flowers or helping in the decomposition of various matter?


    Finally I want to say that I reuse and reuse
    the insects I have. After an exhibition I pin them on to foam boards and
    put them into boxes until the next exhibition. If something is damaged I
    always try to repair it before it gets thrown away and those beyond repair
    I give to children for further study.  

  • R Pholiota

    Highlighting how important bugs are to life by killing thousands of them and pinning them to the wall. Seriously?