[image-1]When you step into a Stacey Kirby exhibit, you may not even realize you’re stepping out of reality. Kirby, an interdisciplinary artist from North Carolina, uses “performative interactions” to connect with strangers, creating dialogues around civic responsibility, and what it means to be an American citizen. Kirby’s aim is to “empower the voice within us all.”

Imagine a Parks & Rec episode veering more heartwarming than zany, with Kirby as a charming but calmer, brunette Leslie Knope, and you may begin to wrap your mind around the artist’s projects.

In The Declaration Project, Kirby dresses like a straight-laced, bespectacled bureaucrat, and positions herself behind a big wooden desk in the Yates Building at Chapel Hill. People walk in off the street and Kirby asks them to fill out a form about the personal belongings they bring into the space. “It can be what you’re thinking, or the sunglasses on your head,” Kirby tells a young couple. After they fill out the form, it is archived along with more than 1,400 other personal belonging declarations. A nameplate sits on Kirby’s desk that reads “Department of Declaration: Bureau of Personal Belongings.” The whole scene is whimsical, humanizing the often painstaking and pedestrian interactions between the government and its citizens.

In another performance piece, “VALIDnation” Kirby asks strangers to fill out forms describing their family, partnership, or lifestyle, “whatever you’d like to include.” The participants step into a voting booth, and Kirby tells them “I will determine whether you’re valid in the community.” The participants look wary, as Kirby keeps a straight face, but all of the cards are stamped with a big red VALID. She gives everyone a “civil validation receipt” so that they can keep it in their wallets and pull it out if anyone every questions their validity. It’s a powerful message, delivered in an engaging and palatable format.

Kirby will be performing I AM, a performance piece exploring gender identity and discrimination, at the Gibbes Wed. Sept. 27 from 7 to 8 p.m., Thurs. Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sat. Sept. 30 from 1 to 4 p.m., Tues. Oct. 3 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Wed. Oct. 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. The performance and installation will take place on the admission-free first floor of the museum.