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17:13 minutes

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The Staten Island Building in New York has been home to the bright allowance abounding of insect art aback 2021’s actualization of the Brood X cicadas. In alarm jars and chiffonier drawers and beneath bottle affectation cases, bright cicadas from breed about the apple participate in scenes of human-like activities—they apprehend miniature books, align broiled flowers, actualize bolt art, antipodal with beastly skulls, lounge on and in clabber jars, and more. It’s all allotment of artisan Jennifer Angus’ exhibition Magicicada, an admiration to our assurance on the insect world.

Producer Christie Taylor talks to Angus and Staten Island Building entomologist Colleen Evans about the admiration of insects. Plus, how art and science can accompaniment anniversary added and advise alike the best bug-shy company to acknowledge the accustomed world. 

Looking to add a little Magicicada to your life? Instructor Brittney Hahn joins John to explain her adulation of insect pinning and a few tips for ambitious beginners. Join us for a alive online chic in April to apprentice the ins and outs of starting your own insect accumulating and watch the pros as they pin beetles, moths, and added insects! RSVP for this insect-pinning accident here.

Invest in affection science journalism by accurate a donation to Science Friday.


Jennifer Angus is a assistant of Architecture Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.

Colleen Evans is Administrator of Accustomed Science Estimation and Collections at the Staten Island Building in Staten Island, New York.

JOHN DANKOSKY: This is Science Friday. I’m John Dankosky. We’ve been talking about bats, brains, and well, now how do you feel about talking about bugs? That’s the affair of an art exhibition that’s been at the Staten Island Building aback aftermost year’s absurd actualization of Brood X cicadas.

It’s alleged Magicicada by Wisconsin artist, Jennifer Angus. And yes, that agency lots and lots of insects on the walls and in displays. The exhibition is closing after this spring. But video producer, Luke Groskin, captured it in a video that you can see on our website, sciencefriday.com/insectart. And producer, Christie Taylor, additionally went forth to see Magicicada. Hey, Christie.


JOHN DANKOSKY: Well, I’ve apparent a lot of attractive pictures of this. And I watched the video. But I couldn’t go myself. So maybe you can acquaint us what it’s like in this big allowance abounding of bugs.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Yeah, John. It was actually one of the best adventures I accept had all communicable so far. You airing into a big allowance with blush walls, which are actually fabricated of insects, the blush in them. It’s abounding of chandeliers, and this actual Victorian arrangement of affectation cases, alarm jars, a behemothic chiffonier of curiosities with dozens of drawers. And every distinct one of these cases and jars is a arena with affianced cicadas, added insects, domiciliary objects, buttons, flowers, fabric, all kinds of colors and textures.

If you’ve anytime apprehend an I Spy book, John, it’s affectionate of like a actually immersive I Spy. Cicadas are lighting matches, account little books. They’re accepting abysmal conversations with collywobbles and beastly skulls. There’s article new to apprehension every time you look.

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JOHN DANKOSKY: That sounds actually amazing.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: It actually is. I would actually adulation to go aback afore it closes. And I had a chat with the artist, Jennifer Angus. She’s additionally a assistant of architecture studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. We additionally talked with Colleen Evans, who is an entomologist and administrator of accustomed science estimation and collections at the Staten Island Museum. And I started by allurement Jennifer to allocution about the walls of this blush Victorian room.

JENNIFER ANGUS: One will be addled by the arrangement on the walls, which attending affectionate of like a corpuscle nucleus. Aural anniversary circle, which is formed out of cicadas, there is one altered cicada. And there are abutting to 50 varieties of cicadas. And beneath the cicada that is in the centermost of the amphitheater is a assumption applique with its Latin name. So there is this tip of the hat in an art accession to the science abaft this. And all of these cases are abounding with insects, as are the drawers. So you are walking into a apple that’s bedeviled by the six-legged.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Colleen, what would you add?

COLLEEN EVANS: There’s aloof so abundant assortment in cicadas, aboriginal of all. So a lot of the ones that Jennifer acclimated in her assignment are from Southeast Asia, so they’re not ones that are built-in to the United States. In the United States, we’re acclimated to seeing either the periodicals, which are these little atramentous cicadas with those active red eyes, or we see a lot of the dog day cicadas, which are affectionate of buried looking. There are browns and greens.

But the ones in the exhibit, they’re so vibrant. So there’s oranges and blues, these colors that were not acclimated to seeing on a cicada, but actually exist. Like Jennifer has not recolored them in any way. That’s their accustomed coloring. They are aloof that vibrant. And they actualize aloof this actually absurd arrangement on the walls. And again there’s these admirable swooshes additionally of cicadas affectionate of in amid the altered bacterial or viral shapes.

JENNIFER ANGUS: There’s a swarm. It’s adamantine to acquaint perhaps, if the architecture is swooshing or crawling, and these cicadas accept absitively to neatly anatomy themselves into this pattern, or are they actually artifice these patterns?

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Let’s contemplate that. In the meantime, Colleen, so the Staten Island Building has a actual altered accord with the humble, and hopefully, not too awful cicada. And it has the additional better accumulating in the world. How did that arise to pass?

COLLEEN EVANS: So the Staten Island Museum, we were founded in the backward 1800’s by a accumulation of men, all Staten Islanders, one of whom is William T. Davis. He was 19-years-old at the time of our founding, which I aloof adulation to point out, because a lot of them were actually young. And William T. Davis in accurate after in his activity became the apple able in cicadas. So like the aboriginal 20th century, he was the guy you would allocution to in the absolute apple if you had questions about cicadas whether or not what breed you’re attractive at, what they’re doing, what their analysis is. Like, he was a guy you’d appetite to allocution to.

And because of that– so he did a lot of accession on his own. He was actually actual decidedly absorbed in journal cicadas. We’ve actually a lot of those. But again bodies additionally beatific him cicadas from all over the world. So we accept a common accumulating in our institution. We accept apparently 36,000 cicadas in our collection, which is a lot, mostly from the United States, but from abroad as well, so from all over the world.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Wow. And why was William T. Davis so bedeviled with cicadas?

COLLEEN EVANS: So he aboriginal I think, got absorbed in the journal cicadas. Those are the ones that arise every 13 or 17 years on the East Coast of the United States. And they accept those actually ample populations that emerge, actually thousands, millions, all amassed in one area. And so they actualize these huge sounds.

I anticipate a lot of bodies who accept been on the East Coast of the United States accept potentially accomplished it breadth it’s aloof there’s aloof so abounding cicadas in one spot. And he admired it. The name of the exhibition comes from the brand for journal cicadas, which is Magicicada. And that’s a appellation that William T. Davis coined in 1925. So he accomplished that journal cicadas were altered abundant from added cicadas that they acceptable their own genus.

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And he created this ambrosial blend of the words abracadabra and cicada, and absitively that’s what they bare to be called. Because he aloof begin them so magical.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: That’s actually interesting. Well, and Jennifer, aftermost year was the big actualization of the Brood X, that absurd big accumulation of 17-year cicadas, which were allotment of the Inspiration4 this exhibit. What was the address of this actualization for you and creating a allotment of artwork?

JENNIFER ANGUS: So it was actual bright to me that we would bless the cicada. I mean, there was no added way to go. And I actually with Colleen, and a acquaintance of ours, Chef Joseph Yoon, we went to the Princeton area, which was a hot-spot of the emergence. And it was my aboriginal acquaintance with the journal cicadas. And I actually feel that it was one of the things I will bethink all my life. The day I accustomed it was actually warm. And the abutting day, it was cold. And it was as if the cicadas had been stunned.

Now, Joseph was accession cicadas too that he would after baker up. And Colleen and I had fabricated a affectionate of acceding that what we were accession were those that were afresh deceased. I mean, we are actual much– we appetite to see these cicadas thrive. I actually got alone complex with them. Because as I was abject bottomward to aces up article that I anticipation was dead, I’d see a leg move. And I realized, oh, it’s aloof abashed with the cold.

And so I started acrimonious these cicadas up, and started to feel like a bit of a matchmaker. Because that’s in cicadas, we apperceive they’ve lived underground for 17 years. But in their developed form, they are attractive for love. And so I started putting them on branches. And I yelled to Joseph, do not arise over here. I’ve spent a lot of time matchmaking. I appetite affair to happen.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Jennifer, you accept positioned so abounding of these cicadas in a really, actually animal position. They’re up on their rear legs. Sometimes, they arise to be teaching, or accomplishing bolt art. What was your ambition in giving this array of animal feel to these insects?

JENNIFER ANGUS: Well, I anticipate that one of my goals is to accept bodies anticipate about insects differently. We all apperceive the accent of bees, and we’re audition about antecedents collapse, the afterlife of millions of bees. And this is already accepting an appulse on prices of fruits. We charge insects to decompose matter.

But they are additionally an important articulation in the aliment chain. Perhaps, that’s their greatest job. So I alluded to this actualization of Brood X in the millions. And abounding of those that arise out of the arena aboriginal get eaten by birds and baby mammals. And I anticipate bodies don’t candidly don’t affliction a lot about insects, but they affliction a lot about birds. So if you’re seeing beneath birds, is it because there are beneath insects?

So I appetite bodies to alpha cerebration about insects differently. And I anthropomorphize them, because they become a bit added relatable. If a actuality can anticipate about them as arch lives conceivably alongside to our own, again there’s a sympathy, and perhaps, you won’t barge on it, or cull out the can of RAID.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Colleen, is there a role for art like Jennifer’s in science advice to that aforementioned end? I mean, is adorableness itself educational as you array of see it arena out in the museum?

COLLEEN EVANS: Absolutely. So a lot of bodies alive that that allowance is abounding of insects, you can about affectionate of see them animating themselves afore they go in, because they’re so afflictive with the abstraction of actuality amidst by insects that they actually accept to about attitude themselves up to airing in. Not everybody. But of course, like those bodies who already accept maybe a anxiety associated with insects, they actually accept to affectionate of booty a exhausted afore they airing in.

And you can see aloof while they’re affective through the exhibit, their anatomy accent changes. They relax. They calm down. They realize, oh, this isn’t actually annihilation to be afraid of or agitated by. And again you can apprehension that they alpha accepting afterpiece to the walls. They actually alpha seeing them as alone insects, and alpha allurement questions.

And again like in that moment, suddenly, they’re interested, and they’re invested, and they appetite to apperceive well, OK, able-bodied why? Why are these insects here? Why is it important? Why is this one altered than this one? They get that moment to assuredly accomplish a affiliation with an insect that they may not be able to do it’s a active one that’s like aerial at them. That would be abundant added abashing than accepting these abiding in a admirable arrangement breadth they can affectionate of get up abutting and booty a minute with them.

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JENNIFER ANGUS: That reminds me that bodies generally say to me, I’d abhorrence to see that aerial at me. And some of these cicadas and added insects are so ample that actually, they’re not actual acceptable flyers. So I don’t anticipate it would be actual threatening. You’d accept a adventitious to duck. And actually honestly, they don’t fly a accomplished lot anyway.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Well, and Colleen, Jennifer, we’re entering bounce finally. We ability not be able to acquisition cicadas anytime soon. But what’s activity on in the insect apple that we can beam that you achievement we do go out and appreciate?

COLLEEN EVANS: So some insects are starting to deathwatch up from their winter hibernations. Abnormally on a warmer day appropriate now, you ability alpha seeing, abnormally like some of our overwintering collywobbles are starting to arise out. You ability assume like a morning blind or article if you’re actual lucky. And so it’s a acceptable time to alpha abutting with those.

A lot of your amphibian insects are advancing aback to life, or at atomic starting to move around. So if you attending in the water, you ability alpha seeing them on a brilliant day, alpha seeing little guys affective about in the basal maybe advancing up for air. And of course, as we move added into bounce and summer, you’re activity to alpha seeing a lot of your pollinators alive up advancing to all the altered flowers that are blooming. And so yeah, it’s a acceptable time to aloof alpha abutting with them as they move about their amplitude and alpha accomplishing their thing.

JENNIFER ANGUS: You know, and so I anticipate about insects breadth I live, July is a admirable time, because the fireflies arise out. And to me, those are so magical. And aback to the exhibition, I anticipate that that’s actually that abracadabra is article that I appetite to tap into, that really, insects are actually not alone beautiful, but amazing. I mean, abnormally these journal cicadas. Imagine 17 years underground, and again this actualization as Colleen declared with William T Davis, that he called the magicicada. And I achievement that is captured in the exhibition.

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Acknowledge you both so abundant for the time today.

JENNIFER ANGUS: Acknowledge you.

COLLEEN EVANS: Yeah, acknowledge you so much,

CHRISTIE TAYLOR: Jennifer Angus is a Assistant of Architecture Studies and artisan at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Colleen Evans is Administrator of Accustomed Sciences Estimation and Collections at the Staten Island Museum. I’m Christie Taylor.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Thanks, Christie. And if you appetite to apprentice added about the Magicicada affectation at the Staten Island Museum, and see what we’re talking about, we’ve got that attractive video walkthrough for you from video ambassador Luke Groskin. Check it out on our website, sciencefriday.com/insectart. The affectation closes on May 22. Achievement you get a adventitious to see it.

Copyright © 2022 Science Friday Initiative. All rights reserved. Science Friday transcripts are produced on a bound borderline by 3Play Media. Fidelity to the aboriginal aired/published audio or video book ability vary, and argument ability be adapted or adapted in the future. For the accurate almanac of Science Friday’s programming, amuse appointment the aboriginal aired/published recording. For agreement of use and added information, appointment our behavior pages at http://www.sciencefriday.com/about/policies/

Christie Taylor is a ambassador for Science Friday. Her day involves active research, too abounding buzz calls for an introvert, and allurement scientists if they accept any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

John Dankosky works with the radio aggregation to actualize our account show, and is allowance to body our State of Science Reporting Network. He’s additionally been a adept bedfellow host on Science Friday. He and his wife accept four cats, bags of bees, and a yoga flat in the asleep Northwest hills of Connecticut. 

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