Wow. I sooooo wish I could make it to this exhibit. Via Curious Expeditions–the artwork of Jennifer Angus.

“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 installation is up only until June 14th, and it’s well worth any effort it takes to get there to see Insecta Fantasia.

They also have posted an interview with the artist at their blog.

I wonder if I can get time off and fly to Jersey….(even more cool photos at the artist’s website!)

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. It’s all very amazing stuff and quite spectacular – and I know you can argue that it brings entomology to youngster’s attention and might stimulate interest in bugs. But I do wonder if the sight of so many dead insects being used for art or decoration might also add fuel to the anti-collecting lobby? Here in Europe animal rights groups could look for stuff like this to prove in their eyes that entomologists kill insects needlessly, while in fact (as I’m sure you know) insect collections are a vital tool for people studying taxonomy and systematics. Perhaps in the US this isn’t such an issue? What’s your view? :)

  2. More insect art of note can be found at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. They have a gigantic sphere made up of iridescent beetles. Let me know if you would like me to e-mail you a picture.

  3. I’ve been to the Ballentine House once before; it’s an interesting building.

  4. Wow Bug Girl, you’ve outdone your usual great with this – spectacular and thanks!

    I suppose ChrisR has a point – at least here in Canada the animal worshippers do lobby against insect collecting. It all seems to be about a need to control other people’s behaviour, rather than any real interest in insects. Maybe the geometric designs in Prof Angus’ work will appeal to them. Based on some of her comments in the interview, though, it sounds like she already has had to defend herself against an insect rights group.

  5. I agree homebug. It’s a difficult choice, and the artist tried to address the issue in her interview.

    Frankly, my experiences with animal rights groups is that they are not interested in a dialog/cost-benefits discussion.

    Folks who are against collecting because of habitat or population depletion issues have a better argument, (and are more reasonable in a discussion!). Many of these showy bugs are now grown in culture, and provide a source of income for indigenous peoples.

    So I’m inclined to think the beauty and wonder will outweigh the protests.

    But I’m biased too! :p

  6. I think it’s important to clarify that I am not implying that she is in any way endangering any species or using rarities in her work – she clearly addresses that in her interview. Also, as we know, responsible collecting will not damage insect populations. :o)

    I also agree that indigenous peoples can make very valuable money rearing some insects and I am sure every effort has been made to make sure that they come from sustainable sources. But it does just make me uncomfortable that a big can of worms might be opened if large exhibits like this were targeted by the “animal-rights” lobby. They use very simplistic and emotive arguments to generate negative press and it would be a terrible blow if taking specimens for study was in any way discouraged or restricted.

    At times when we’re trying to build interest in conservation in youngsters I think it generates a conflict when you have to explain that we are all trying to protect and conserve biodiversity … but at the same time killing thousands of insects just to hang on the wall in pretty patterns is somehow OK.

    Anyway, I’m not convinced either way … just opening the topic up for debate :o)

  7. The “why do I kill insects to love them” question of collections is HUGE.

    We discussed this a couple of years ago here:

    Doug said it better than I ever could:


  8. Yup – I think I am with you and Doug on this debate. :)

    I collected anything when I was a kid and it really fuelled by fascination for insects – and I would still support any child who wanted to make a small collection. I also echo your like for Durrell’s books, which I devoured with equal passion.

    When I got my first camera I stopped collecting for most of my late teens though. This was partly because I enjoyed learning about photography and the insect collecting went by the wayside but also because I recognised that I needed to have a good reason to kill something and could nolonger justify taking insects just for the sake of having them or for decoration. I should add that this wasn’t a huge moral dilemma – more of a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that wouldn’t go away.

    I studied moths for a while and got back into insect collecting on trips to South America in the late 1980s. Collecting was an essential part of any study and back home in the UK in the late 1990s I decided to broaden my entomological knowledge and push my boundaries a bit by taking on the trickier groups (Diptera & Hymenoptera).

    I hope to carry on my studies for many more years and I collect often and without any qualms because what I am doing is 100% necessary for study and my work will indirectly benefit the species I am collecting and directly contribute to our understanding of the groups.

    I still wouldn’t take insects for decoration though and I prefer to cover my walls with insect paintings by artists like Richard Lewington :)

  9. ooops – apologies – WordPress seems to have automatically logged me in and forgotten my ChrisR moniker :)

  10. I would add art is a worthwhile reason for collecting. Both science and art add something valuable to our lives. (And art using insects is also generally educational. Anything that brings the beauty of insects out has got to help!) I am sure most collectors are aware of what is rare and worth leaving alone. At least, I hope so.

    As for me, I stopped my personal collection after about a dozen insects. I enjoy the chase when I know the outcome is going to be used in a worthwhile fashion. I just can’t do it for my own personal satisfaction. For myself, I take photographs now.

  11. It’s wonderful to see so much discussion about my work.

    In the art world “decoration” is a dirty word – it implies something frivolous – icing on the cake so to speak. I would like to think that my work is more than decoration. I hope it is thought provoking. If there are some people who are outraged so much the better! I hope it will start a dialogue that causes us all to consider ideas we may not have before.

    The discussion has primarily focused around the use of large numbers of insects. I would like to add some more information. I reuse the insects in each exhibition. At the conclusion of a show they are pinned on to foam boards and stored until the next show. Some of the weevils I use have been going for more than 8 years!

    I see the insects as ambassadors of their species. Most people don’t even know that such creatures exist. In the wild a most mature insect live for weeks – their job is to mate and many don’t even eat. Since all of my specimens are mature species (they’d be larvae or pupae if they weren’t and not very visually exciting) I think it would be fair to assume they had a chance to procreate. In my work they have an extended “after-life”. Ultimately I believe that I am a naturalist, conservationist working as hard as anyone to see that these unique animals continue to exist.

    Thanks for your comments and discussion.


  12. Welcome Jennifer! Clearly, we all love your work, and thanks for the extra info :)

  13. Wow – nice to see the artist herself joining in the debate :)

    I’m not entirely sure that the insects would have been allowed to breed though – most insects bred for the specimen trade are killed while they are still 100% perfect (anything less and they are practically worthless to the sellers). If they had been left to breed the wings would have been chipped etc.

    The installation has certainly provoked debate and plenty of thought. It has caused me to go back over my reasons to collect and what I consider to be acceptable in terms of killing things. Perhaps I have a slightly more Buddhist outlook to entomology, or just have a more sensitive conscience when it comes to life. Not sure.

    I think the most interesting aspect is the relative acceptance of displays of dead animals. In Victorian times it was OK to stuff almost anything and mount them in all kinds of strange and fantastical ways, but now (at least over here in the UK) taxidermy is a dieing art. But what is it about insects that fills us with wonder and joy at seeing them … but at the same time allows us to kill lots of them with impunity? Would we feel the same way if the art was made from freeze-dried captive-bred poison-arrow frogs … or fish … or mice?

    Interesting ideas though :)

  14. First thanks for your comments. I have heard this leap before, first insects, then what, birds? I think this misses the point of what I am partially trying to do – rehabilitate the image of insects as dirty nuisances. In the west we hate insects and mostly without reason. We don’t feel the same way about frogs, fish, however you have a point about mice.

    Most insects reproduce at a tremendous rate and in great numbers so as to insure themselves against disease and predators. I can only speak for myself but the insects I use are in no way endangered. I do not believe my work gives people license to kill at will. So really the discussion is a morality debate. Is is right to kill insects for art, science, education, all things my work addresses? I have had discussions previously with persons who feel these are God’s creatures and what I am doing is wrong. If that’s a persons stance then there is nothing I can say to counter that. It brings us into a larger debate – are we all going to be vegans then? Is it wrong to kill plants then too? Funnily enough I am a vegetarian!

    I believe I take a thoughtful albeit provocative approach to get people to reconsider their prejudices to insects. It’s not the only thing I am trying to do but part of the big picture.

    Appreciate your thoughts.


  15. Yes, the morality of the issue is really what I am discussing – I think we are all in agreement that no real harm is done to the insect populations :)

    I stopped collecting insects when a nagging conscience made me realize that I wasn’t comfortable killing even bugs for no other reason than to have them in my collection or hang them on the wall. But I took up collecting again when I decided to study orders like Diptera & Hymenoptera, where it’s impossible without specimens. I love sausages & bacon too much to give up meat and if aphids or lily beetles are decimating my plants then I have been known to spray them with insecticide (but I have had the same bottle for over 2 years so I use very little) ;) I swat mosquitoes or horseflies when they’re after my blood … but I net & release bluebottles or wasps that come into the house. But I wouldn’t hang a display of butterflies on my wall and I wouldn’t buy insects for display. It’s all just personal choice.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting debate … made me think a lot :)

  16. What do you do to keep the Dermestid beetles away? Just a thought… :-)

  17. I freeze the little blighters but virtually any form of human-friendly pesticide would be in my armory. If insects are trying to harm me or the work I do then they are fair game ;)

    My guess is that Jennifer’s exhibits aren’t up for long enough to warrant specific protection while they are in-situ. Also, she has a lot of the same species so she must have ‘spares’ that she could substitute if one got damaged :)

  18. Mothballs, storage containers with tight seals – I’d like to say air tight but that might not be quite true – and I avoid exhibitions in summer unless there is climate control. I have had very few problems with dermestides.

  19. “Rich
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink
    More insect art of note can be found at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. They have a gigantic sphere made up of iridescent beetles. Let me know if you would like me to e-mail you a picture.”

    anyone have an idea what the artists name is?

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