Author Jennifer Angus Discusses Using Bugs as Her Medium
The Children’s Book Review
Published: May 30, 2013
Artist Jennifer Angus, known for her Victorian-inspired exhibits of insect specimens, brings her distinctive sensibility to the pages of her first novel, In Search of Goliathus Hercules (Albert Whitman & Company, 2013). The fantastic story of Henri Bell, a near-orphan who in 1890 is sent to live with his ancient great-aunt and her extensive button collection. One rainy afternoon, Henri strikes up a conversation with a friendly fly on the windowsill and discovers he possesses the astounding ability to speak with insects. Angus discusses her inspiration for the book: the use of bugs to create art.
At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I teach textile design so I am passionate about textiles and in particular pattern which is inherent to cloth. I spent several years in the late ’80s and early ’90s in the area known as the Golden Triangle (where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, formerly Burma, meet) researching tribal minority dress. At that time I discovered a particular garment known as a “singing shawl,” worn by young women of the Karen tribe that is embellished with metallic beetle wings in place of beads or sequins. It was very exciting to find something utilized that was so naturally beautiful and readily available. Since then I have found other groups that use whole beetles or the wings applied to garments, headdresses, and baskets.
In 1995 I finally got my hands on some metallic beetles that I intended to use in one of my own art works. I was doing a residency in Japan, just outside of Tokyo. Part of the purpose of the residency was to interact with the locals and any visitors who came to my studio. There were three little boys eight or nine years old— Yoshi, Daiske, and Nori—who came to visit every day after school. One day they saw me working with the insects and they thought, “Cool! She likes insects, we like insects!” and a friendship was formed, although we had no language in common. It is not unusual for Japanese children to keep insects as pets. Each day the boys would stop by and show me what they had caught. If it was dead they generally left it with me and if it was alive they took it home to put in little cricket cages. After a while my studio was beginning to look like a bug cemetery, and so to amuse the children I started dressing up the corpses in costumes. These were large rhino beetles, so I was able to dress them in paper kimonos and mount them on a board so that they appeared to be standing. So we had rhino beetles modeling spring and autumn kimono fashions, dung beetles as sumo wrestlers, and so on. The culmination of my little insect sculptures was a whole three-ring circus done about five years after my time in Japan.
The bug circus was as far as I could go—there was nothing new or exciting to me about doing that any more, yet I still felt interested in the insects. Doing these works was always a sideline to my more serious sociopolitical-type pieces that were photo-based and utilized pattern in very specific ways to communicate ideas. At that point I thought, why not take the insects and put them into patterns? My training and teaching revolve around textile design and developing repeat patterns. It seemed obvious that this should be my next step. And so I began pinning insects to the wall in patterns that mimic textiles and wallpaper. And the rest I guess is history …
For more information, visit: http://www.jenniferangus.com/
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In Search of Goliathus Hercules is published and sold by Albert Whitman & Company: www.albertwhitman.com
eBooks are available from Open Road Media: www.openroadmedia.com