Colby Stephens – Pay No Attention (The Chairman’s Confession)

Pay No Attention (The Chairman’s Confession). Digital video in cinema marquee box. 2012. From Normalcy, Not Nostrums.

L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz can be read as a political allegory for the economic chaos of the 1890s. Allegorically speaking, each of the myriad adventures that Dorothy undertakes in the book can be interpreted as some suggested solution to the economic crisis. The Emerald City can be understood as an allegorical reference to Lincoln’s greenbacks which were a fiat currency printed to fund the Civil War. As a solution to the crisis, some suggested a return to this fiat currency to expand the money supply. In the book, the Emerald City is not actually green. Rather, everyone who enters must wear emerald-lens glasses that are locked onto their heads with a key by the gatekeeper. When the Wizard is found out, he first tells Dorothy and her friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and then subsequently laments that “My people have worn green glasses for so long that most of them think it really is an emerald city.” This statement then functions as a critique of fiat currency, and is all the more relevant today. In the artwork, the floating head of the Wizard (the Chairman of the Fed) speaks this lament over and over again.

Colby Stephens Reno, NV.

About the Artist.

Dissatisfied with the current divisive discourse present in American politics, Colby Stephens makes work that seeks to reframe the conversations that surround political topics. Stephens intends to foster a more thoughtful engagement with political issues ranging from economic policy to the use of military drones than what is currently present in popular media outlets. To do this, Stephens situates his critiques of political structures in historical and constitutional contexts rather than relying on ever prevalent “bumper sticker doctrine.” Rooted in extensive research, Stephens takes large concepts and breaks them down into units a process he refers to as the stratification of information. To this end, every aesthetic decision serves to communicate an idea, and intends to foster a discussion. Frequent use of allegory and mythology allows Stephens to address complex issues in ways that allow viewers to engage with the work, and enterit at myriad levels.

Stephens’ first large body of work, Normalcy, Not Nostrums, critiques Federal Reserve policy on issues ranging from the non-market-based approach to manipulating the federal funds rate, to fiat currency, to the very principle of central banking. His second large body of work, American Pantheon, a project based on a myth Stephens designed, situates the Nostrums critique in the larger theater of American politics today.

Stephens expects to receive his MFA degree from the University of Nevada, Reno in May 2014. He lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife and fellow artist Claire Stephens. Together, the pair share a passion for the outdoors and backcountry adventure.

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