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On 24th June 2016 a sculpture by the internationally renowned German artist Stephan Balkenhol was unveiled at Hager Group in Obernai (Alsace, France). With the coloured bronze sculpture ‘Mann auf Stier’ (‘Man on bull’), the artist has picked up on the myth of the bull – very popular in art throughout history – and created a sculpture that, due to its contradictory nature, examines the complex issues of the attitudes and perspectives of mankind.
The work is characterised by a sophisticated formal language, and depicts a man riding a muscular bull backwards. It will be displayed in front of Hager Forum at the Obernai site of Hager Group. The animal is surging forwards, with its head lowered as if it were about to charge. Despite the bull’s great size and its unpredictable strength, its rider does not appear to be attempting to restrain or steer the animal, and yet the naturalness of his posture – notwithstanding his unusual viewing direction – suggests that he is an equal partner.
The bronze sculpture is around 3 metres long and 2.5 metres high. Together with its plinth, it weighs almost 4 tonnes. While the strong impression that the sculpture makes in front of the new Hager Forum seems self-evident, the fact that the man is riding the bull backwards also creates an element of confusion. Balkenhol’s memorable image is not as easy to grasp as it may seem at first, and it is full of contradictions. The onlooker does not see a static symbol, but rather a conceptual image that encourages contemplation and acts as a catalyst for various associations.
Matthias Winzen, Professor of Art History at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (Saar University of Art and Design) in Saarbrücken, explains, “If we go along with the notion that the animal’s direction of travel leads to what is coming next – the future – and that the man is accepting his future by allowing himself to be carried towards it backwards, then one could consider Balkenhol’s sculpture an artistic translation of complex questions regarding our experience of time in corporeal spatiality. This translation of time in space gives the motionless bronze sculpture its effect of liveliness, its own presence. This is easier said than done for a sculptor. And this is where Balkenhol’s great skill – hidden behind his work’s apparent simplicity – truly lies.”
The onlooker scans the scene, searching and questioning; our sense of perception is awoken because the piece is so open to interpretation. “My figures are an expression of my search for the intrinsic essential characteristics of human existence – in all its facets. The figure shown here is somebody who is moving forward energetically – but he is careful at the same time,” says Stephan Balkenhol, explaining his work.
This is an approach that Daniel Hager and his company can certainly identify with.
“The bull symbolises growth, and growth is also Hager Group’s ambition for the coming years. We intend to grow sustainably and successfully rather than maximising profits in the short term. This growth is planned - represented by the man sitting backwards on a bull. Courage, authenticity and integrity are our company values, and what better to represent courage than a man sat facing the back of a forward pacing bull.”, commented Daniel Hager.