By Rachel Werner

At first glance, textile artist and UW-Madison design studies professor Jennifer Angus’ exhibitions appear to be massive cascades of pattern—symmetrically flowing from one wall to the next. But a closer inspection reveals that the stark contrast of the repetition’s beauty is actually formed by bugs.

What inspired you to begin using insects as a medium? Early in my career, I was in a section of the “Golden Triangle” in northern Thailand and saw tribal minority garments embellished with beetle wings. Impressed by the ingenuity of these women to use essentially what was in their backyard and plentiful introduced me to thinking about insects in a new way.

Describe your work. My love of pattern is the common thread in all of my work. A typical installation takes four to 10 days to complete and is site-specific. No two exhibits are ever the same since each is designed for the space, thereby allowing me to work or play off a gallery or hall’s architectural features and history.

How do you select insects? I am partial to varieties from the leaf mimic family (cicadas, beetles and grasshoppers) because their wings are hard and will stand up to reuse over time. The only insects I do not use are butterflies because I want to use types that people have not traditionally thought of as beautiful.

What response does your exhibited work get? People who have never darkened a door of an art museum will come in just because they heard it has big bugs. But, then they take a step back because it wasn’t what they were expecting. I manage to spark this tension between the familiar and something they hate, which is incredibly powerful. When someone walks in and says, “I have never seen anything like this before,” I have accomplished my goal.

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