Europe is in transition. Today, it sees itself as provincialised and has to re-establish its relations with the world. The Rhinoceros Salon brings the protagonists of an open society into conversation: against identitarian politics, it relies on recognition, translation and worldliness. A Berlin Salon of living-together.
The rhinoceros is indeed a strange member of the world community of the living. Exceedingly well-nourished and firm on its legs, it should be able to look to the future with confidence. But there’s the rub: the rhinoceros’s vision is extremely poor. Perhaps that explains why it is so suspicious and irritable. In any case, its massive horn and heavy armor, issuing from the depths of time are outdated and hardly give it assurance—making this highly sensitive mock giant into a tragic figure of the present. But even historically the rhinoceros did not exactly come across as light of foot. The Roman emperors already kept rhinoceroses as an expression of their world domination, as can be seen in Sicilian mosaics. When King Manuel I of Portugal sent a greater one-horned rhinoceros imported from Goa to Rome as a tribute to Pope Leo X, the tremendous animal again stood for Europe’s imperial claims. After a brief stay on the prison island Château d’If off the coast of Marseille the whole mission—along with the poor beast—went under off the Genovese coast.
In Lisbon, however, sketches had already been made, which served Dürer when he crafted his world-famous woodcut, capturing the era of European universalism as it dawned.
The rhinoceros is an emblem. It stands for Europe and for the insight that its relationship to the world needs to be rethought. We already saw it in 1983, in the final shot of Federico Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On, after the sinking of a European ship party, at sea on a lifeboat, looking toward an uncertain future together with a surviving journalist. A new world order is in the offing, one in which the rhinoceros has to give up some of its weight and put itself to the test of coexistence. On the fragile ground of history the question thus becomes: under what conditions can a half-blind, multiton creature hazard the transition?
The Rhinoceros Salon at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt on 8 October 2020 will explore this with art, discussion and action. It presents the journal Rhinoceros – Europe in transition (Matthes & Seitz) and launches its first issue: “repairing”. For it is only when the question of historical conditions and current practices of repairing a damaged world has been raised that meaningful thought can be given to living together in a divided world. What are the possibilities and limits of historical reparation? What does colonialism cost? Are discourses of guilt allowed to be brought together? Can art repair? Who can even repair socially? And how do we deal with ruptures that cannot be repaired?