PlayPlay for Real Real

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum’s current multimedia exhibition PlayPlay explores the roles games play in human development from childhood into adulthood. According to , aka Thorn, the artist behind this seemingly playful collection of site-specific works, it’s not all fun and games.
The Jacksonville-based artist conceived PlayPlay as both a technical exercise-everything was tailored to the space at hand-and a nuanced meditation on a theme that pop psychology has uncritically celebrated for a long time.
“The show focuses on games and pastimes that we play as children that we might continue into adulthood with simple emotional ramifications and sometimes with more tangible outcomes,” said Thorn.
Ever since Freud lifted the lid on our collective subconscious, play has been lauded as the antidote to dour Victorian discipline. Thorn suggests that this light-hearted turn can also compromise our moral compass.
“Some of our government leaders might’ve grown up playing ‘war’ or pretending to lead an army as children,” she explains. “Now, they might be in an actual position to send real people to war. I believe that sometimes they forget these soldiers are real people with families and not pieces to be moved around on a chessboard.”
PlayPlay is just one side of the multifaceted artist who works across different media and moves through the world of policy. Indeed, the project was a bit of play for Thorn herself, allowing her to stretch out and demonstrate the breadth of her training.
“It is different from most work I’ve done in the past, so some people have been surprised,” she says. “Lots of people think of me only in relation to adornment and jewelry. I actually have my degrees in printmaking and graphic design. I’ve designed T-shirts and other clothing. I’ve also done photography, collage, woodworking and bookbinding.”
The Urban Atelier is the multidisciplinary umbrella under which Thorn creates art and addresses social issues. She often uses repurposed materials to craft objects that defy simple questions about identity and belonging. The brand name is itself an attempt to reclaim the epithet ‘urban.’
“From my first solo show Urban Exotic,” says Thorn, “I saw myself as a flower growing in the middle of my perceived ‘urban’ beginnings. I don’t know the actual history of the use of the word ‘urban’ and how it became synonymous with people of color. I’d guess probably during the ’50s and ’60s at the height of white flight, when city populations became predominantly brown. The word ‘urban’ became tainted with negative connotations. It’s now shorthand for ‘gritty.’ If I’m honest, the name Urban Atelier was initially chosen just as much in defiance of a label as well as in defiance of an identity that was imposed upon me instead of chosen. I’ve always seen myself as the opposite of ‘urban,’ the opposite of the caricature of the stereotypical African-American artist some are most comfortable with. People look at me, they look at my hair and skin, and they don’t actually see me; they see their biases and prejudices manifest-positive or negative.”
The name Urban Atelier also suggests Thorn’s interest in city planning.
“Public art shouldn’t be exclusive to just certain neighborhoods and tax brackets,” she says. “Art is and always should be inclusive.”
It’s a message that Thorn has taken out of the galleries and into the corridors of power. She founded the Renewed Community Initiatives (RECi) to advocate for de-centralized art, because Downtown Jacksonville and its urban core receive the lion’s share of public art funding. Thorn and RECi want to see that attention distributed more equitably. The organization’s latest project featured a Community Pride Mural unveiled in Harborview during Public Art Week this past April. And Thorn is involved with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and its Art in Public Places Program.
Tracie Thornton discusses PlayPlay 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9. She plans to include the story of her evolution as an artist and her use of recycled materials.