There are bugs at the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, something like 5,000 of them. And it’s by no means an infestation, as they’re all dead – we’re talking dried exoskeletons and wings – and they’re all there by design. No crawling or flying is involved.
Actually, installation artist Jennifer Angus, who’s the responsible party, insists the correct word to use is insects. “Bugs,” she says, “is really slang – a bug, technically is a type of insect like a ladybug or a stinkbug.”
No such entomological errors at the MFA. The insects in the whimsical exhibition ‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’ and Other Stories, as told by Jennifer Angus – opening Saturday – are cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles, most of them indigenous to Southeast Asia.
“Butterflies and moths are too fragile,” Angus explains. “They don’t hold up to the wear and tear of repeated use. Also, I’m interested in using insects that we may have not thought of before as beautiful. And so it’s an educational opportunity.”
A professor of Textiles at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Canadian-born Angus was in Thailand, studying the myriad patterns of native clothing, when she came upon a garment trimmed with iridescent beetle wings.
She was struck by the beauty of such a natural ornamentation … and then came what she describes as her “a-ha” moment: “It became my next obsession,” Angus recalls. “I thought ‘I’m going to take insects and put them in patterns, because patterns is what I know about in textile design.’”
At her first show, in a in a Toronto storefront, “I realized that there’s a tension between the pattern, which suggests a domesticated space, an interior space, and that thing we don’t want inside.”
On the walls of the MFA’s Hough Galleries, 22 feet from floor to ceiling, Angus has fashioned a kind of organic wallpaper, creating patterns – some telling stories of history and the environment, others merely ornamental – using dried bugs (er, insects) individually pinned to the drywall. Most are symmetrical – patterns, you see? – and strangely beautiful.
‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’ and Other Stories takes up several rooms, each with its own artistic vision. In one jaw-dropping tableau, a collection of taxidermied Florida animals is gathered around a banquet table, like an Alice in Wonderland tea party through a River of Grass filter.
It’s wax-museum weird, especially when it becomes clear, on closer examination, that there are also insects on the candlelit table, enjoying the “feast,” and that the animal heads mounted on the walls are all framed by elaborate patterns of insects.
Angus has also fashioned a room dedicated to, among other things, a Victorian era-styled “Cabinet of Curiosities” with drawers designed to be pulled open, their contents examined.
Such cabinets, she says, originated in the Age of Enlightenment – open a drawer, discover something interesting from the natural world, or religious art, “a whole range of things.
“It really was encyclopedic. Here, we have many stories, and in a way, it’s little bit hard for me to say where to begin.”
Angus will give a “Process Talk” at the museum at 2 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit will remain through Jan. 5.
In these pages: Good stuff this weekend
And now, this
Qui Nguyen’s oddly endearing autobiographical comedy Vietgone is mid-production at American Stage (more on this tomorrow in the Catalyst); Stageworks (in Tampa) has the chiller Wait Until Dark;
Comic, actor, singer and game show host Wayne Brady brings it all to the Mahaffey Theater Sunday.
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