LAND OF COCKAIGNE
28 September - 11 November 2007
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.
Below is an account of an early camera obscura, taken from The Seventeenth Book of Natural Magick by John Baptista Porta:
How in a Chamber you may see hunting, battles of enemies, and other delusions.
Now for a conclusion I will add that, then which nothing can be more pleasant for great men, and scholars, and ingenious persons to behold. That in a dark chamber by white sheets objected, one may see as clearly and perspicuously, as if they were before his eyes, huntings, banquets, armies of enemies, plays, and all things else that one desires. Let there be over against that chamber, where you desire to represent things, some spacious plain, where the sun can freely shine. Upon that you shall set trees in order, also woods, mountains, rivers, and animals that are really so, or made by art, of wood, or some other matter. You must frame little children in them, as we use to bring them in when comedies are acted. And you must counterfeit Stags, Boar, Rhinocerets, Elephants, Lions, and what other creatures you please. Then by degrees they must appear, as coming out of their dens, upon the plain. The hunter must come with his hunting pole, nets, arrows, and other necessaries, that may represent hunting. Let there be horns, Cornets, and trumpets sounded. Those that are in the chamber shall see trees, animals, hunters faces, and all the rest so plainly, that they cannot tell wether they be true or delusions.
Rachel Reupke: Artist’s Statement
“CGI blockbusters; TV advertising; spaghetti westerns; Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo; postcards; webcams; Bruegel; Friedrich and Turner – all serve as reference for a body of work exploring ideas about landscape and cinema, romanticism, spectacle and the modern world.
In single-shot video works, narrative landscape scenes, seemingly procured from location test shots or out-takes from another film, deconstruct, undermine and reorder conventional cinematic hierarchies. Narrative drama is marginalised in favour of the panorama. Dramatic events remain ambiguous, hints of plots that suggest the actors might be playing to another camera, the film crew concealed or out of shot.
Scenery and vistas are constructed, manipulated and improved to the point of hyperreality. Craft and style, employed in service of the spectacle. Yet romanticism is tempered; set within the post-industrial age, the works depict landscapes organised for economic gain and social control, where technological progress, though made aesthetic and impressive, retains an underlying element of threat.
Recent projects have developed into photographic and online works, where the iconic nature of the panorama has been explored further through webcam ‘films’, film stills and found/collected image series.”