At the San Diego City College City Gallery, good things come in U.S. Postal Service Priority Flat Rate mailers. So do funny things, rebellious things, and things that make you think about a lot of other things.
It is all part of “Small Acts: The Craft of Subversion,” a new exhibition co-curated by SDSU professors Kerianne Quick and Adam John Manley.
The exhibition — which runs through April 13 — features works from more than 60 artists and craftspeople who answered Quick and Manley’s call to send in pieces that challenged authority, questioned institutions and made their own rules.
The craftspeople could make their statements through many mediums, including wood carvings, ceramics, textiles, or — in the case of San Diego artist Diana Benevidez’s “Border Crosser” — a remote-control car made of paper mâché. But whatever they made had to fit inside a small, medium or large USPS Priority Flat Rate mailer.
The result is a gathering of compact objects that pack a walloping collective punch.
“We were interested in how accumulation lends things a kind of power. As they pile up, they begin to have more impact,” said Manley, an associate professor of furniture design and woodworking.
“During the opening, one thing I heard several people say was that the work was speaking to them,” said Quick, an associate professor of jewelry and metalwork.
“These small, intimate things that have some level of familiarity, they don’t alienate you. They let you in in a way that makes you feel validated. The intimacy of that is a powerful way to move someone. Whether you move them emotionally or move them toward action. Either or both.”
City Gallery’s “Small Acts,” is the first exhibition from “Craft Desert,” a handmade publication that Manley and Quick — both artists and craftspeople — founded in 2018. Like “Small Acts,” Manley and Quick’s biannual zine is dedicated to celebrating craft and craftspeople.
Whether the work is jewelry that makes a statement or furniture with vision, “Craft Desert” defines craft as work that is either physically functional or alludes to functionality, but also expresses a concept and/or challenges viewers to think.
“It is being able to transform raw material, through skill and labor, into something extraordinary. That is how we are thinking about craft,” Quick said. “It is not necessarily tied to a traditional material. It is about a really skilled practice and a deep engagement with making something.”
In “Small Acts: The Craft of Subversion,” the artists flipped the script on multiple norms in numerous ways.
There is Jeffrey Clancy’s “Suck It (Phillips Avent Pacifier),” which features a cluster of pacifiers beautifully crafted from fabricated silver and cast lead. Maybe Clancy (who got his Master of Fine Arts at SDSU) is skewering the parenting industrial complex, where nothing is too good for your precious bundle of joy. Or maybe he is looking at income inequality, where some children live in silver-spoon communities, while others are getting lead-filled water in their sippy cups.
In “Object Lessons,” San Diego artist Lynn Susholtz uses illustrations from a 1964 grade-school primer to examine her own ideas about what it means to be queer, and what the artists behind the illustrations might have been saying about queer life in the still-closeted 1960s.
And in “Real Pearl Necklace,” Lena Echelle pierces the gilded bubble of fashion and luxury goods by making a visually stunning necklace of “pearls” made from goat dung and layers of nail polish.
There are works tackling the increase in anti-abortion legislation in the U.S., the effect of colonization, the challenge of dismantling patriarchal power structures and the web of human-rights issues surrounding immigration.
Like a herd of reverse Trojan Horses, the pieces in “Small Acts: The Craft of Subversion” pack a powder keg of big thoughts into objects that could fit inside your mailbox.
Talk about special delivery.
“I love the idea of people who are not steeped in craft seeing the show and feeling like craft can keep up and speak about larger things,” Manley said. “But it can also be beautiful and wearable and funny and smart, all at once.”
“Small Acts: The Craft of Subversion” will be on exhibit at the City Gallery at San Diego City College through April 13. The gallery will be closed the last week of March while the campus is closed for spring break. Regular gallery hours resume April 5. The City Gallery is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. You must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours to enter the gallery. Masks are required at all times. The gallery is at 1508 C. St., AH 314, downtown San Diego. For more information, go to citygallerysdcc.weebly.com