Daniel Cheek
The Arctic, Tucson, Arizona,
silver gelatin print

I’m mildly obsessed with (wo)man’s ability to manipulate and cajole the senses. I grew-up in a diabetic household, and for that reason I prefer the taste of sugar-free everything. You name it and I will happily choose the one devoid of natural sugar. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the taste of sweetness, I do, but I prefer the metallic aftertaste of aspartame to the syrupiness of real sugar. By way of sugar, science has manipulated me into loving artificial sweetness, and so I choose Splenda instead of Sugar in the Raw.

(Wo)man has done this with more than just our taste buds. Now our noses are falling prey to the perfection of scientifically mastered scents. When I made the switch to plant-based cleaners as an adult this notion of perfected scent finally became noticeable. With a few sprays of my plant based kitchen cleaner (scented with Lavender) I initially disliked the smell; the scent wasn’t fresh and bright, it was thick and, well, plant-y. It took a few more uses for me to realize that my spray really smelled quite amazing, and what tripped me up initially was my fluency with the scientifically perfected smell of “lavender” resting inside my old Febreez can. My nose was accustomed to the artificial scent of natural things, and despite the deliciousness of essential lavender oil it just can’t compare to the hyper-lavender of today’s laboratories. So our noses and tongues fight between what is real (natural) and what was perfected for us (artificial). And more often than not it seems that in the fight of science lab v. flower petals the science lab wins.

Photographer Daniel Cheek understands the quandary of artificially created nature. And while sugar and cleaning products aren’t a part of his equation he highlights this very phenomenon in his collection of photography entitled just that – Artificial Natural. From an exhibition in the International Wildlife Museum to the enduring indoor climbing rock wall, Cheek examines and exposes the increasing awkwardness of mimicking something natural, something inherent to our Earth, with synthetic materials.

I found his photographs of the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, Arizona to be particularly effective in explicating this modern dynamic of artificial nature. The composition of each photo makes it impossible to discern any of the exhibits boundary lines. The seamless edges of the shot make the styling accomplished by the museum all the more impressive; at first glance his piece The Arctic, Tucson Arizona truly looks like a first person view of the glacial setting. Similarly, his piece Climbing Gym gives viewers a superb perspective on replicating nature for the sake of fitness; the gun metal gray of the walls and the austere ropes dangling from the ceiling give the illusion of a deep cavernous climb. With this collection Cheek puts false nature into perspective: it is strange that (wo)man has so perfectly replicated the Arctic and the craggy side of a mountain for the purpose of entertainment. We’ve got artificial sugar and mountains – what’s next?

– Halcombe Miller