Creation 1997 Giants spectacular

The Rhinoceros

Le rhinocéros est transporté dans sa cage, sur une barge, à Lisbonne au Portugal
Arles, Lisbon (Portugal)

"The Rhinoceros" is a creation that was premiered in Arles from 5 to 9 July 1997 during the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie and then presented every day during the Universal Exhibition in Lisbon (Portugal) from May to September 1998 - 903,000 spectators.

Arles, 1997...

By the King and the Lieutenant general of police, gentlemen and ladies, you are warned that has recently arrived in this town an animal named Rhinoceros. It was taken in Africa in the province of the Benoue in 1741, by a marine captain, and that captain had it transported from Douala by sea to Holland. It was only 3 years old when it was taken. It was then 5 feet 7 inches tall, 12 feet long and 12 feet thick. Since then it became much taller and bigger. This monster is musk colored. It has a horn placed on its nose, horn that serves to defend itself. It runs with surprising lightness. It can swim and loves diving into the water like a duck. Its head becomes slightly pointy on the front. Its ears resemble those of a donkey. Its eyes are excessively small for its size which is enormous. For food it eats 60 pounds of hay and 20 pounds of bread a day: it drinks 14 buckets of water and beer. It was weighed in Stouquart in the country of Wirtemberg on the 6th of May 1748, it weighed 5,000 pounds. This monster must be put in a cage. It sometimes needs, that is to say when paths are bad, to put up to 20 horses to pull it. This animal has been seen in every court in Germany where it was admired by all the sovereigns of foreign courts.

Lisbon Universal Exhibition, 1998. "The legend of the rhinoceros found in the Tagus".

This is about a rhinoceros locked in a cage and proposed as a punctual image. Its daily appearance in the World Fair will be experienced as a mythical tale linked to the world of giants. Every evening, at a specific time, this animal trapped at the bottom of the water will appear in a cage pulled out by a crane. A sacred appearance, therefore furtive (about ten minutes), halfway between the ceremony and realistic servitude, linked to a mythological animal since it is a question of making it breathe and cleaning it with motor pumps. It is a suspended puppet of 5 m by 2.50 m made of steel, weighing approximately 2 tons. Its cage is 6 m x 4 m and is made of solid wood (oak), giving the impression of a very old work (middle age, antique...). The story could be that of a king of Africa in remote times who forged this invincible rhinoceros and condemned to eternity to ensure the survival of his race. Driven out by the increasing expanse of the desert and frightened by new men, he would have fled brutally digging a hole in the forest. In panic, he would have plunged into the sea, crossing the oceans, lifting up the rocks in his path, making a furrow in the bottom of the sea, sinking ships and crushing sea monsters. Wandering from port to port, he could end his race in Lisbon where men would have trapped him and imprisoned him in a cage, perhaps waiting for a giant to come and appease him and bring him back to his land.

This story (or another one like it) puts the theatrical situation (the daily appearance of the rhinoceros) into a popular tale that people can tell themselves. To exist fully, the image must be distant and solitary (about thirty metres from the bank). A sine qua non condition for the existence of this project: too close to the public, the animal would lose its mysterious charge and quickly become a mere curiosity. By moving it away, it will be able to preserve a poetic inviolability that cannot be altered by repetition over four months. In fact, this image tells a story that could even be peddled in Lisbon far away from the Universal Exhibition. The important theatrical aspect of the Royal de Luxe is to link popular stories to images.


« J'ai un souvenir impérissable de ce rhinocéros. Vu a Arles, du haut de mes 10ans. J'ai été terrorisé, fasciné et émerveillé tout a la fois. J'ai encore en tête les bruits, les images et les odeurs de ce monstre qui me paraissait alors gigantesque ! »

Jérémy Debrosse - Arles , France - February 25, 2024

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« Pour l’exposition universelle de Lisbonne, qui se déroulera en 1998, Jean-Luc Courcoult inépuisable metteur en scène, a imaginé un rhinocéros encagé, totalement articulé comme d’habitude, et animé / manipulé par dix-huit comédiens / techniciens ‘habillés façon Camel Trophy’. […] comme le Géant, le fauve bouge, vit, respire, se fâche, boit, mange et évacue. En Juillet, il a fait l’événement des rencontres internationales de photo d’Arles, où il était présenté en avant-première.  »

Ouest-France - 23/08/1997