DYING OF CURIOSITY
Courtesy of the artist
Here in the Great Hall of Glenview, Jennifer Angus has created a site-specific installation that illuminates a unique aspect of the Victorian era as an age of scientific classification. Darwin’s shocking theories of evolution, popularized after the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, inspired the collection of natural history specimens, particularly insects. The formation of these collections represented an impulse frequently cited as both a compliment and criticism of the Victorians—the obsessive classification of objects.
Insects are rife with decorative possibilities, as their visual diversity and small size make them the perfect raw material for unlimited combinations of patterning. Angus’s installation is composed of commercially harvested, not endangered, insects pinned to the walls in repeating geometric designs that resemble Victorian wallpaper. It is only upon closer inspection that these marvelous patterns reveal themselves to be the preserved remains of living creatures, thereby exposing a tension between the beauty and knowledge that can be gained from collection and the true cost of doing so.
Angus plays on the dichotomy between the formal beauty of some insects, such as the butterfly, and our general instinctive unease around many others, such as wasps. We tend to associate insects with poison, contamination, or disease. Angus often installs her work in grand architectural spaces that signal wealth and prestige—the last place we might expect to find so many insects.