The Victorian Insect House


Curious Expeditions has a great interview with Jennifer Angus, the artist who recently redecorated the Newark Museum's Victorian Ballentine House with dead insects in an installation called "Insecta Fantasia." Wow!

The Museum restored the elegant abode to its original dark wood and horror vaccui (fear of empty space) style. This fear of empty space is often seen in Victorian homes - pictures covering every inch of wall, furniture and carpets covering all available floor space, murals and moulding on the ceilings, objects crowding every surface, elaborate window coverings and stained glass in the windows. There is no place for the weary eye to rest; just how we here at Curious Expeditions like it.

It is fitting location for artist Jennifer Angus to show her work. Nestled within the Ballentine House, Angus has taken two rooms, the former rooms of the two Ballentine children, and covered them in insects. From a distance it looks like wallpaper, but upon closer inspection, the walls have been covered in thousands of precisely pinned bugs. Giant pink grasshoppers, perfect replicas of leaves and iridescent jewel beetles all swarm the walls in orderly geometric patterns.


The obvious tension here is that fastidious Victorians would never have embraced live insects crawling all over their walls; they preferred their nature dead, orderly, arranged in patterns. But the fact that they did collect and keep insect specimen cases in their homes makes them perhaps a bit more open to the beauty of insects than most modern Americans, who have no desire to see any insects at all, living or dead, (with the possible exception of butterflies - and Angus doesn't use them). On the other hand, the rooms Angus decorated are children's rooms - so it is also possible to see the installation as the manifestation of a child's idle fantasy - a daydream, perhaps, on a summer afternoon when rain traps one indoors, and the wallpaper comes alive . . .

You can read much more at Curious Expeditions. Unfortunately the Newark exhibit is scheduled to close today - it was, tragically, bioephemeral - but Angus has another show in Kansas City this summer, at the Belger Art Center. If you're in the area, definitely check it out.

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horror vaccui? Where that comes from? Anyone studied it?

Jennifer-We saw your show at the Belger and applaud your artistry and the imagination and drive it took to create your masterpieces. Do you sell your work? We'd love to have a piece? Mayre

By Mayre Max (not verified) on 06 Sep 2009 #permalink