UnNaturally features works by fifteen artists who employ artificial materials to create simulations of nature, exploring the ways in which the boundaries between nature and culture are sometimes blurred, and raising provocative questions about our mediated environment. These works play on our nostalgia for an idealized pre-industrial past in which man and nature coexisted harmoniously in an unspoiled landscape, the same nostalgia that has given rise to constructed environments in malls, zoos, and other themed “entertainment destinations” where nature is tamed and packaged for consumer use.
Through an art of studied verisimilitude, impressive craftsmanship, and occasional deadpan use of irony, the artists presented here suggest that the natural world can be reproduced with man-made materials just like any other mass-produced commercial product. Gregory Crewdson photographs his own meticulously constructed scenes that imitate natural settings, challenging viewers to question the notion of “reality.” Steel, epoxy, plaster, polymer, and other “unnatural” materials are transformed into surrogates for nature by such sculptors as Jason Middlebrook, Roxy Paine, and Michelle Segre, making us ask whether such “new-and-improved” stand-ins outweigh the benefits of the unmediated experience of nature. Other sculptors such as Jacci Den Hartog, Keith Edmier, Michael Pierzynski, and Alyson Shotz blatantly reveal contemporary nature’s artificiality by borrowing from popular culture and theme-park kitsch. A sound piece by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle imitates the soothing recorded sounds of nature piped into shopping malls and played at home for relaxation. Several of the artists are from Southern California, imparting a Hollywood sensibility to a theme that has occupied many artists in the past several years.