Saving the Raging Bull

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!

Towering over Birmingham’s Centenary Square

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.

Looking down on Raging Bull from one of the upper floors of the Library of Birmingham

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.

Not the Raging Bull! This bronze bull statue in the Bullring Shopping Centre is by Laurence Broderick. Although splendid, it’s just modest in size when compared with Raging Bull! IMAGE CREDIT: “Bullie – the Bullring bull – The Guardian – towards the West Mall” by ell brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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.

Behind Raging Bull is the Hall of Memory, a war memorial completed in 1925 that commemorates the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died in World War 1

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 gazes out across Centenary Square towards the magnificent Library of Birmingham, the largest public library in England. It opened in 2013.

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.

20 comments

  1. tanjabrittonwriter · October 19

    Fascinating. I had neither heard neither of the Commonwealth Games nor of the Raging Bull. Thank you for bringing both to my attention. I find it amazing how real he looks in the video, which captures a very moving scene. I hope he will find a good home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 22

      Bully Boy – as Mrs P and I like to call him – is an impressive beast, isn’t he. As for the Commonwealth Games, I’m not really surprised that this gathering of athletes every 4 years is little known in the US. Sadly, there is no realistic prospect of Americans ever being invited to compete. In part this is due to the painful and messy divorce between our two great nations in the late 18th century. But mainly, I suspect, it’s because is the US competed British athletes would rarely, if ever, win any medals! πŸ™‚

      Like

      • tanjabrittonwriter · October 22

        Somehow, Bully Boy sounds very tender, even though bully does not. But it reflects his tender side and makes me think of Ferdinand, the bull who didn’t want to fight and smell the flowers instead. I suspect you know the story.
        I’m sure if the British National Cricket team played the US, they would win! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · October 23

        Regarding cricket, did you know that the first-ever international cricket match was played on your side of the Pond, between the US and Canada in September 1844? And that Philadelphia was once a hotbed of cricket? In 1897 and 1903 the Philadelphia club toured England, and one of its players (John Barton King) was regarded as β€œone of the finest bowlers of all time.” With that pedigree, the US would probably win a Commonwealth Games medal for cricket, so we definitely won’t be allowing you to play any time soon! πŸ™‚πŸ™‚πŸ™‚

        And yes, I do know of (and enormously admire) Ferdinand the Bull. An example to us all, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · October 24

        I had never heard about this match, or about Philadelphia’s cricket history. Fascinating!

        And I agree that Ferdinand’s would be a good example to follow! πŸŒΈπŸ•Š

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves · October 19

    Wait, what? Destined for the scrapyard? What the heck. What a magnificent sculpture! Would love to see it in person. Looks like it came straight from Elferterre, the imaginary magical realm in my Great Library Series. It gave me quite a thrill to see raging bull. Also enjoyed learning the history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 23

      Yes, I can easily see how Bully Boy – as Mrs P and I like to call him – would fit well into the imaginary world of your books. He’s an awe-inspiring creation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol Ann Siciliano · October 19

    What a great story, well told. The sculpture — as a symbol of the city’s resilience and determination — seems quite apt, especially considering its ongoing story, How wonderful that you and Mrs. P. got to admire it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 23

      Thank you, glad you found yourself inspired by Bully Boy, as Mrs P and I like to call him.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thelongview · October 19

    Very impressive, and the video is like a science fiction movie. Nice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 23

      Thank you, glad you enjoyed. Bully Boy – as Mrs P and I like to call him – really is “something else”!

      Like

  5. Paddy Tobin · October 19

    I’m not sure which impresses me most, the raging bull of the fact that Chris de Burgh is still doing concerts. (I gave a talk at his house during a literary festival some years back!) I certainly agree that the bull is well worth saving and displaying very prominently. By the way, we have a bullring here in Waterford also – still standing though not in use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 23

      Chris de Burgh still pulls in the crowds. His voice isn’t quite what it was, but he still has “presence”. I imagine his house was rather grand!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · October 23

        His wife was the host on the occasion and I’d always felt he had the “presence” of a wet blanket!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · October 24

        Ooh, that’s a bit harsh! I’ve followed Chris for over 40 years and seen him perform on numerous occasions. He is at his best when in storyteller / troubadour mode (Lady in Red did him no favours, in my humble opinion, other than boosting his bank balance), though I can see it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ms. Liz · October 20

    Impressive! I’ve shared a link on twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ThoughtsBecomeWords · October 25

    As no stranger to the Commonwealth Games and their often unusual mascots (Matilda the Kangaroo was the giant mascot of the 1982 Commonwealth Games here in Brisbane and she currently languishes beside a roadhouse on the way to the Sunshine Coast) I have to say Raging Bull is impressive and well worth saving!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 25

      Just tracked down some photos of Matilda on the internet. I can see how she, too, would have won a following!

      Liked by 1 person

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