Il Paese di Cuccagna was an exhibition commissioned by I-DEA and Matera City of Culture 2019, and curated by Navine G Khan-Dossos and James Bridle. We assembled an exhibition exploring the vibrancy of more-than-human life as seen through the archives of the Basilicata region. As well as objects from local collections, the exhibition included field recordings and newly commissioned works from local artisans.
In medieval literature, Il Paese di Cuccagna – the Land of Cockaigne – is a mythical place of plenty, an alternative reality in which the harshness of everyday life is replaced with superabundance. Stone bears fruit, wine bursts from the spring, and birds and animals leap up in song.
But where is Cockaigne today? Unlike political utopias or religious heavens, we believe that Cockaigne is not some faraway place, remote and hard to reach. Rather, Cockaigne is close at hand, at right angles to our everyday reality, immediately accessible to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It is still a place of surfeit and abundance; it is also a place of struggle and uncertainty, of spectral beings and other intelligences.
Cockaigne is glimpsed among the trees in spring and shouted in the drunken revels of the festa. It is heard in the song of shepherds and in every breath that blows through the zampogna and every sigh in dusty libraries. It is there in the hoisting of the maggio and the cirii as well as the tourist knick-knacks and the Hollywood movie sets. Cockaigne is in the shuddering of superstition and the ragged jubilation of protest. Cockaigne exists unevenly distributed in space and time, connecting ancient and modern artefacts, practices and knowledges, constantly being created, recreated, uncovered and buried again.
The exhibition Il Paese di Cuccagna brings together objects and stories from across Basilicata which attest to the lifeforce of legends, fictions, and non-humans, and their entanglement with our own lives. From musical instruments constructed from trees and skins, to the green screens of movie sets, promising other realities; from the number-crunching machines of space science to the songs of harvest and husbandry: all these are here, waiting for our wonder and our care.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos and James Bridle are artists, partners, and guests of I-DEA and Matera City of Culture 2019. Their work deals with the relationships between humans, non-humans, culture, technology, and representation; and the role of art in reimagining better futures.