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Be a ‘Postal Outlier’: Mail art exhibition welcomes submissions

mail art
Mail art by Nancy Bell Scott from the collection of Debra Mulnick. Photo provided by Fonda Portales.

What is mail art? A profoundly democratic art form whose only requirement is that the art piece – whether it’s a collage, a brick wrapped in wrapping paper, a watercolored envelope with copious glitter, or a coconut slathered with stamps – is sent through the mail.

Boise State is hosting Postal Outliers, a mail art show early in 2021. The deadline to submit a piece is Nov. 1. Fonda Portales, an organizer of the exhibition and curator of the university’s art collection, shared the rules for the show: “no jury, no fees, no returns.”

In other words, anyone who submits a piece will be included. There’s no fee to submit a piece, and all the pieces in Postal Outliers will become part of the collection of the Boise State Special Collections Archive.

“My hope is that people feel this is open to them,” said Portales. “Mail art requires only a willingness for a bit of postal adventure.”

The roots of mail art lie in the post-World War I absurdist Dada movement and the experimental Fluxus movement of the 1960s and 1970s, said Portales. The Smithsonian recently hosted an exhibition, Pushing the Envelope: Mail Art from the Archives of American Art, with mail art selected from its archives.

Submissions are already making their way to the Boise State mail box, said Portales. “One is the top of a computer laptop that someone in Vermont turned into a canvas. Another is a painted rock in an up-cycled fruit container.”

mail art example
Mail art in the form of a computer lid, sent from Vermont. Photo provided by Fonda Portales.

The exhibition also will include mail art pieces from the collection of Tom Trusky, the late Boise State professor, film historian and art collector.

Boise artist Debra Mulnick is co-organizing the exhibition with Portales. Mulnick has worked in the medium for a decade. Her home studio is festooned with mail art she’s received from Taiwan, from all over the European Union, from South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

Being a mail artist, she said, requires a leap of faith and some optimism. Mail art can get lost, wrecked, or returned-to-sender.

“It might not work,” Mulnick said. But often it does.

Want to submit a piece? Send your art to the Postal Outliers Exhibition, c/o Fonda Portales, university art curator, Boise State University, 1910 University Dr. MS 1335, Boise, Idaho 83725-1335.

More about mail art:

  • “Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art” by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler
  • The podcast Stationery Orbit, an interview with Jennie Hinchcliff