From afar, this ornate room may look like it’s covered in beautiful wallpaper—but take a closer look and you’ll see those shapes are actually made from 5,000 dead insects! Artist Jennifer Angus created the incredible bug-adorned wall installation, titled ‘In the Midnight Garden,’ as part of the immersive “Wonder” exhibit in the Smithsonian’s recently reopened Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. The real insects, unaltered except in the positions of their bodies, are arranged in exquisite geometric and skull patterns to help raise environmental awareness.
Angus’ awe-inspiring exhibit begins with the visitor’s first glimpse of the room: a shocking hot pink color that assaults the senses and covers the room; the bright color contrasts with the museum’s otherwise demure all-white walls. The next surprise comes in the realization that the decorative skull and serpentine “wallpaper” is actually made up of thousands of real insects—a light-bulb moment that initially elicits disbelief or even disgust, but often ends with a sense of wonder.
The 5,000 insects were sourced from Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Malaysia, and purchased from insect specimen dealers. The dead and dried insects retain their natural colors. No endangered species were used. To minimize waste, Angus reuses her insects by carefully storing them on foam core boards and in boxes until the next exhibition. Many of the insects used in the exhibition have been part of Angus’ collection for nearly 20 years; the artist estimates that around 200 new insects were purchased for the exhibition. All the insects are used for the purpose of promoting conservation and environmental awareness.
In the Midnight Garden, named after the beautiful iridescent colors of beetles, primarily comprises cicadas, but also includes other insects like weevils, beetles, leaf bugs, and butterflies. The walls’ hot pink hues were created from natural dye derived from the tiny cochineal insect. Angus, formerly a textile designer, pinned the insects to the walls into repeating shapes and patterns that change from structured geometric shapes to free-flowing serpentine sections. The bottom portions of all four walls are lined with cicadas in a diagonal formation.
“Many people who visit my exhibitions were never aware that such unusual insects exist,” Angus writes on her website. “I hope that my exhibition will get them excited and perhaps they will be motivated to get involved with one of the many of the rainforest preservation projects out there. I would also like people to think about their own environment and behavior. How is urban and suburban encroachment affecting wildlife big and small in your neighborhood? It is easy to take up the case of larger mammals, birds and fish but what about smaller creatures who have an important role in the ecosystem to play be it pollinating flowers or helping in the decomposition of various matter?”
The Renwick Gallery also features eight other installations by acclaimed artists, including Maya Lin, Patrick Dougherty, and Janet Echelman. The building is the first purpose-built art museum in the U.S. and recently reopened with the Wonder Exhibit following a two-year renovation. Wonder’s immersive site-specific installations will be on show until July 10, 2016. Admission is free.
Images © Lucy Wang