Art comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s very surprising, occasionally awe-inspiring. Take Raging Bull, for example, the 10 metres high sculpture that starred in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony earlier in the year. Weighing in at 2.5 tonnes the armoured bull has a massive wow factor, so when we visited Birmingham a few weeks ago to see Chris de Burgh in concert we were determined to spend a spare morning tracking down this modern masterpiece of mechanical public art.
The sculpture is made mostly out of machinery sourced from factories in and around Birmingham, and is intended as a symbol of the city’s journey through a turbulent past to the present day. It was designed, built, and mechanised by a team of around 60 people from UK-based special effects company Artem. The head, legs and tail can be manoeuvred by a crew of puppeteers and technicians, aided by a tractor unit cunningly concealed beneath the body. It can also breathe smoke and flash its eyes red. It is, as today’s kids would probably tell you, proper awesome!
Unsurprisingly, Raging Bull made a huge impression when he entered the arena at the opening of the Commonwealth Games, striding majestically across the running track towards the centre of the stadium. But he has a softer side too, as another YouTube video demonstrates:
But what is surprising, however, is how those in positions of power totally failed to predict the likely public impact of this colossal mechanical sculpture. No provision was made to put it on permanent display after the Games had ended, and Raging Bull was destined for the scrapyard.
However, when Brummies – that is, the people of Birmingham – learned of his intended fate there was an outpouring of protest, in part no doubt because the city has a long association with bulls. Birmingham’s primary retail complex, the Bullring, is built on land where – between the 16th and late 18th centuries – bulls were baited prior to slaughter in the erroneous belief that this would tenderise their meat. Thankfully this barbaric practice is now outlawed, but echoes of it survive in the name of the modern shopping centre (mall) and in the bronze bull statue that was erected there in 2003.
In addition, Raging Bull was widely seen by locals as a positive symbol of their – and, indeed their city’s – qualities of determination, persistence and strength. Brummies felt they could relate to him and perceived him as something to be proud of, to treasure even. So, when more than 10,000 people signed up to a campaign to save him, it became clear that a rescue mission was required.
To buy a bit of time while a plan was worked out, after the Games ended he was moved temporarily to Centenary Square. This was where Mrs P and I were able to see him, albeit as a static work of art rather than a walking, smoking, glowing monster. Never mind, he was magnificent just the same.
At the time of writing a final decision on just where Raging Bull will spend the rest of his days has yet to be made. It appears that his huge bulk, as well as the need to protect him from inclement weather, is presenting a few challenges! An indoor home of generous proportions is clearly required.
Raging Bull was removed from Centenary Square at the end of September, and for now languishes in an abandoned carpark next to a portable toilet, under the watchful eye of a security guard! Things may currently look bleak, but the city authorities are adamant that his future is assured. They’d better be true to their word. Although a bit unconventional, Raging Bull is a wonderful work of art, an inspiring creation that we simply cannot afford to lose.