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When Does the Unnatural Become Natural?

When Does the Unnatural Become Natural?

This week’s PhotoGenie theme is titled Artificial Nature.

Through visual stories our curators research the question “In what ways are we creating an illusion of nature?”

Heidi de Gier’s Plastic Panda’s was created for Bas Haring’s book of the same name – a book which studies the values of nature and its diversity, as well as the changing and disappearing of nature, in a provocative way. The book questions if – in a disastrous world where nature is disappearing, species are becoming extinct and every three seconds a piece of rainforest the size of a soccer field is cut down – there could exist only parks and agriculture, and if ultimately this could and would be enjoyable. This is done in a realistic but also optimistic manner, as all kinds of things disappear but are also replaced by others. The photos in de Gier’s series show the places that are written about by Haring. According to de Gier, topics such as “why do species disappear?” or “how much biodiversity is necessary?” were the starting point for the photo series, which mainly concerns itself with how mankind “cultivates nature or creates an illusion of it”.

In one of the photos, we see a wall with a wallpaper imitating a forest. The light coming from the window hits the wall in such a way, that it makes the existence of trees and greenery almost believable. In another photo, we see a woman inside a tanning machine – a great example of how humans attempt to recreate natural experiences, such as the feeling and end results of direct sunlight on our bodies. Through this series, we are reminded of the artificial environments which are (re)created for multiple experiences outside of their regular location and existence. For instance, the artificial habitats created by zoos in order to imitate what would be the natural habitat of whatever animal is being “exhibited” or the fake snow and mountains which attempt to recreate the experience of skiing or snowboarding in the city.

Although this series alludes to how we are slowly losing the nature and the experiences which come with it and so often try to recreate, it can also be seen as an optimistic way to look at how humans still try to implement the experience of nature in their lives – even if only artificially. This series can be related to the concept of hyperreality as argued by French sociologist, philosopher, and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard. In his work, Simulacra and Simulation (1994), Baudrillard explores the idea of how current society has substituted all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and how human experience is a simulation of reality. According to Jean Baudrillard, representations of things are replacing the things being represented. Thus, the representation grows more important than the real thing, which intensifies the difficulty with making a distinction between what is real and what is not. As we replace nature with representations of nature, will we stop being able to distinguish real nature from artificial nature? Furthermore, to what extent is artificial nature enough and how do we even define what is enough?

Our cravings for these experiences environments should be seen as an aide-mémoire, that we must try our best to preserve the nature we already have.

About the artist: Heidi de Gier (1977) is a Dutch photographer who lives and works in Utrecht, NL. In 2005, she graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts and is currently teaching documentary photography as a guest lecturer at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht. Her work has been exhibited all over the world and she has been awarded for her photobook both in the Netherlands and the USA.

Check out Heidi de Gier’s full body of work at www.heididegier.nl or on Instagram @heididegier.

Our weekly themes always include three photo series by different photographers. Are you interested and do you want to stay posted? Make sure to follow us on Instagram @wearecurators

Further Reading: Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard

Written by Rita Boleiro

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