SONS of our nation become giants to view, portraits stretched up Ranks’ towering silo and next, the gable walls of Lower Mallow Street junction. Reaching to 115-feet high, these black and white images of solitary local teens, not named, are powerful in scope, provoking thought.
You’ve guessed it. City of Culture fuelled the roll out, literally, of these paper friezes under the banner of ‘Our Nation’s Sons’.
This is a project led by Roscommon man Joe Caslin, working with schools in each area. Here he is pooling a team of eight drawn from CBS Sexton Street and Crescent College Comprehensive who are aged between 16 and 18.
Here since Easter with the youths and operating out of Culture Factory, the pasting up itself took weekend work at Ranks’ dock entrance “when the port freight traffic is gone, working 6pm until after 11pm.
“We have been steeped in luck,” Caslin says of the weather and helpful port authority.
He came to Limerick in December to talk with former City of Culture director Karl Wallace and got this community/ leadership project “kicked off’ on the merit of previous installations – Achill Henge, Harry Crosbie’s house in Dublin, Trinity College – previous sites often linked by NAMA.
“The image is always of a man in a hoodie who is working on ‘Our Nation’s Sons’. We start off with drawings of themes that have to be local and overall for this one in Limerick, the themes are: the apathy of young men now. Why is it there? How people pick up on stereotypes, the negativity of stereotypes that sits there, for example, when a group of boys in hoodies are seen together, [the expectation] that they are up to no good.
“This project focuses on mental health, depression, suicide”. Caslin was here in February site-seeing when he saw the suicide patrol by the river. Their conversation was insightful.
He points immediately to “the flip side of that, ordinary kids doing something so extraordinary and monumental in the city” with respect, for example, to collaborative work on these art works.
Being LSAD, NCAD and Edinburgh College of Art trained, he himself draws the head and shoulders of one figure in the group as representative of Ireland’s present day youth.
Working with the volunteer students and his own team of three, now we see end-of-storyboard comprised of 66 x10-inch strips of Caslin’s blown up portrait on paper rolled out by the boys, up a full 33meters x 22m across the edifice of Ranks silo.
It took careful handwork to accommodate this seminal building’s ribs and scale.
Our Nation’s Sons are telling an eloquent story in black and white, pensive, passive and active all at once. It’s high-vis work to make us consider our country of young men, their challenges and potential.