The Gingerbread House Concept


Concept  “Gingerbread House” and the “The Land of Cockaigne”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "Luilekkerland" ("The Land of Cockaigne"), 1567. Oil on panel. (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)


“We must be off now,” said Hansel, “and get out of this forest” – Hansel and Gretel, “ Grimm’s Fairy Tales 1812


Hansel and Gretel eat the wicked witch’s Gingerbread House. The tale becomes a metaphor of deliverance from evil, an exorcism that destroys an icon of fear. I wanted to mix together two great images that would be immediately recognisable to both children and adults. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm gathered their Fairy tales from all over Germany much as I have gathered references for this work from Hopper, Hitchcock, Breugel the Elder and the Brothers Grimm.


I involved all the audience in creating this event, a “Pop Performance” in which we all participated. By eating the Gingerbread we confronted our fears. “Gingerbread House” assembled elements of Grimm’s “Kinder und Hausmärchen” (also known as “Zaubermärchen”, magic tales, 1812 Hansel and Gretel) with the artifice of Pop to suggest rather than spell out the message of deliverance and hope. The children succeed in killing the wicked witch and return home triumphant. The destruction of a perceived evil is reflected in our society today.


A house made of confectionery is found in a 14th-century manuscript about the Land of “Cockayne”. “Cockaigne” or “Cockayne” is a medieval mythical land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like “The Land of Cockaigne”, Cockaigne is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses). It represented both wish fulfilment and resentment at the strictures of asceticism and society’s rules.


“Gingerbread House” (in German “Lebkuchenhaus”) was intended to be a deliverance and rite of passage for the audience. It is chance to leave the taboos of society behind, a society obsessed by food, diet and image. At last we can gorge ourselves on digestible delights.