“We use language not just to point at things or describe them. We use it to get our way, to get things done, and to state our beliefs.”

Georgina Valverde

Documents Bureau is a playful arena for questioning our daily interactions. Participants’ universal experiences with daily business transactions become a lingua franca for improvisation and enable instances of the carnivalesque, a concept coined by Russian philosopher and literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin. What happens during carnival? The king gets deposed, the most improbable people cavort together, and the social order is temporarily turned on its head. All this points us, in Bakhtin’s words, to the “joyful relativity of all structure and order”.

Typical forms—certificates, licenses, and affidavits—serve as vehicles for personal and imaginative exchanges. By using language in whimsical and liberating ways, even within the strictures of bureaucracy, we become more aware of its power to transform. As J. L. Austen revealed with his theory of “speech acts,” language doesn’t just name or state things, it helps us get things done.

“Like bam! You see this? It got signatures!”

Workshop teen participant, 2014

Documents Bureau is a collaborative project developed by Chicago-based artist, Georgina Valverde and designer, Matt Stone, in concert with a growing cast of contributors. Documents Bureau is a spin-off of Society of Smallness, a collective of diverse practitioners exploring the potential for small actions to generate creative opportunities for all.


Many folks have contributed their skills as artists, musicians, designers, writers, and so much more. This is a partial list: Kevin L. Burrows (aka the Mayor of Bucktown), Lissette Bustamante, Will Clinger, Perry Cowdery, Caitlin Devitt, Paul Durica, Nick Eliopulos, Nando Espinosa Herrera, Marlise Fratinardo, Bryant Godinez, Elliott Godinez, Rafael Godinez, Gretel Garcia, Jack Gruszczynski, Charlotte Kuliak, Marianne Joyce, Allison Kelly, Henry Harris, Noel Jones, Bill Kirby (aka Captain Chicago), Karolina Kowalkczyk, Dud Lawson, Patrick McGee, Jeff Michalski, Chris Molina, Annie Morse, Jorge Mujica, Daniela Perez, Ulises Rangel, Sabina Rangel, Matt Robinson, Victoria Rodriguez, Kat Seno, and Keith Watson.

A special thanks to Marcos Herrera for his creativity, social canoodling skills, and fierce advocacy for accessibility and inclusion over the years.