Valid Voices: Performative Installations by Stacey Kirby

Stacey Kirby and I first met in 2012 as we collaborated on the first iteration of the Durham Storefront Project.  She has carved out a niche in the Durham arts community as one of the few artists who ventures into “performance art” outside of a theater setting.  Instead of asking the audience to come into her installations, she brings the installations out to them.

Stacey began college as a journalism major but ultimately fell in love with printmaking and book arts right before graduating.  She fuels her playful love of paper by making blank sketchbooks from repurposed vintage office materials and then offering them for sale at museum gift shops and art collectives.

Handmade journals created by Stacey Kirby

However, as much as she enjoys object-making, her passion currently lies in performance and installation that take place in very public spheres.  Her performances are all about stumbling into personal connections:

I love getting a cross-section of the public and not having people’s “art” expectations that they have when they walk into an art space, gallery or museum.  In that case, they have a preconceived notion of what they are going to experience, either as “education” or “knowledge.”

I get a much more spontaneous and honest response on the street.  It opens up a lot more conversations.

How about I let Stacey speak for herself for a bit:

Since 2007, Stacey has played the part of a Local Declarations Officer in The Declaration Project, her ongoing “performative interaction” that invites all participants to step out of the virtual and into the physical world by reflecting upon their personal histories.

In her mobile vintage office space, “Officer Kirby” has taken over 1100 participants on an interactive exploration of self-identity through the creation of a bureaucratic paper trail.  The office “stage” has popped up in various galleries and storefronts – even in a P.O.D.S container.  Each office installation has customized Declarations cards, an IN/OUT board, a punch clock, authentic paper files, office knick knacks, ink stamps, the sounds of a Olivetti typewriter, etc.  As the uniformed officer on duty, she asks visitors to take part in a handwritten assessment of their “personal belongings.”  These declarations cards are then archived and travel with the project.

The Declaration Project encourages us to consider the physical and emotional baggage that we carry all the time — and how that may be similar or different from the person sitting in the chair right next to us.  The foundation of The Declaration Project is a poignant question: “Who are you really?”

The passage of Amendment One in North Carolina, which banned civil rights for same-sex families in North Carolina, prompted Stacey’s most recent performance VALIDnation.

Stacey Kirby performing “VALIDnation” at NAACP Moral Monday protest, July 22, 2013

VALIDnation is an ongoing interactive performance art piece exploring civil rights and the validity of communities, families, and individuals throughout the United States.  The fuel for this political performance continues to burn as states pass legislation limiting same-sex couples’ rights, women’s access to healthcare, voting rights and cutting unemployment benefits.

Stacey Kirby performing “VALIDnation” at UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Global Justice

During the performance, Stacey acts as the Civil Validation Officer and asks the public to fill out a Civil Validation Notification card.  Each participant steps into the voting booth to write a description of their FAMILY/LIFESTYLE/PARTNERSHIP on the card (which changes based on recent legislation being passed in NC and throughout the United States).

The Civil Validation Officer determines each participants’ “validity” in the community based on their written statement.  Once approved, a large red VALID stamp is placed over the participants’ response in red ink.  A perforated ‘validation receipt’ is removed by the Officer and given to the participant to keep on their person at all times.

Sample receipt from “VALIDnation” performance

All completed Civil Validation cards are sent via the USPS to either the participant, a person of their choice, or to President Barack Obama.  All participants receive an ‘I AM VALID’ sticker for participating.

Some people have no idea what to do with me.  There is all this confusion and yet all this clarity.  At the same time, I walk away with the feeling that I have started a question mark in someone’s mind like “Why was she sitting there?” or “Why is this cause worth it?”

In a political climate where individual voices — and individual civil rights — are squelched in the interest of “stabilizing the economy” or “bridging the political aisle,” Stacey Kirby is acting as a catalyst for the general public to feel empowered to voice their opinions in public.  The ripples of this empowerment may be far-reaching in unforeseeable ways — and that’s exactly Stacey’s aim.

I feel invigorated by giving the people an opportunity to speak.  I don’t have answers for all these issues in North Carolina, but just giving people the opportunity to speak about it is important.

Do you know other artists who are using their artwork to promote the voices of others who may feel voiceless?  

Have you seen lasting social impact made from public performances like Stacey’s?

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