The boy in the hoodie
Joe Caslin’s Our Nation’s Sons exhibition gives Limerick the eye
It seems as if the boy is watching you no matter where you are in the city. Roscommon man Joe Caslin’s giant drawing of a boy in a hoodie resides on an eight-storey, 115-feet high silo at the Ranks’ site on Limerick’s Dock Road, but he casts an eye over the entire city.
You could see him from the sunny room in the Shannon Rowing Club in the middle of the river where we had a lively Banter as part of the Make A Move festival on what’s ahead for Limerick’s art and culture communities after the City of Culture bandwagon skedaddles at the end of the year. You could spot him in the distance around nearly every corner as you walked around the city streets afterwards. You could certainly watch him watching on in the midnight blue of the Dock Road on the way to the explosive God Knows and MynameisjOhn gig at Dolan’s later that night.
Up close, it’s the scale of Caslin’s black and white drawing of a lone teenage male which draws you in and makes you stop and think. No matter what angle you look from, no matter what stance around the peculiar gloom of the plant on a summer’s night, the eyes are on you – always watchful, always waiting. You can choose to see what it portrays as either alarming – society tends to view young men in hoodies in a certain way as noted by the radio ad currently running for a security company offering CCTV services – or as a sign of vulnerabilty.
It’s also an inventive use of an industrial site. Earlier this year, the EVA exhibition in the city made great use of the old Kerry Group’s former Golden Vale dairy on O’Callaghan’s Strand – in many ways, the use of the building was as telling and more striking than the work on display – and this refitting and repurposing of the silo wall adds several layers of nuance to the idea of what a city is about in the 21st century, now that largescale industry has largely left town.
But this is about the person rather as much as the place. Caslin’s intention is to highlight the young men who’ve been pushed to the edges of society and give them a sense of belonging. On his website, he accepts that you “cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall” but “a drawing has the power to go further than words…(and) a series of large-scale drawings have the potential to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of an island, town or city.”
In an interview earlier in the year, Caslin talked about the perception and “fear or panic” that comes with seeing a gang of youngsters walking down the street. He hopes the series of portraits (more are planned in other Irish cities over the summer) will make people think about the “potential” from those disengaged youths in our midst where social exclusion is often calculated around appearance and attitude. Certainly, with the boy looking over the town scurrying and bustling beneath him, he’s as much in as out of the narratives going on around and below him for once.