Land of Cockaigne

“The Land of Cockaigne is a medieval idea of paradise in which food is ever plentiful, rivers run with alcohol, roasted chickens fly through the air, and eggs walk on legs offering themselves up to be eaten’.

The Land of Cockaigne

In one continuous camera movement, Land of Cockaigne represented a god’s eye view of the Sussex Downs, punctuated with choreographed incidents of human activity. The film was shot directly from the chamber of the camera obscura at Foredown Tower in Portslade Village, Sussex.

In the 1589 edition of his book Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic), Giambattista della Porta described using a camera obscura to present audiences with scenes of ‘Hunting, Battles of Enemies and other delusions’, staged in the landscape outside the chamber. Counterfeit stags, boars, rhinoceros, elephants and lions, and other extraordinary scenery added detail to the landscapes within which the action (hunt, battle or banquet) took place. Other showmen used the device to terrify their fee-paying customers with visions of ghosts and demons, which could appear, with uncanny realism, to be standing in the village street outside.

The title of the video referred to the popular medieval fantasy of a Land of Cockaigne; a parody of paradise in which food and drink is ever plentiful, and idleness and gluttony the primary occupation. The work also referenced Peter Bruegel’s anarchic, allegorical rendition of this idea in his 1567 painting of the same name.

Taking this and early accounts of camera obscura entertainments as a starting point, artist Rachel Reupke staged fictional scenes as live and direct interventions within the landscape. In Reupke’s previous videos images were digitally manipulated and improved to the point of hyperreality, rendering contemporary vistas with an air of the near future. For Land of Cockaigne, Reupke eschewed these digital production methods, using the pre-cinematic form from which her images were derived to create a dialogue with apparitions of the past rather than visions of the future.

Total Visitor Numbers: 3, 809

Exhibition Visitor Comments

“Brilliant (haunting) as usual.”

“Strange and enjoyable.”

“I actually found it beautiful but really disturbing.”

Image Gallery

Photographs courtesy of the artist