Monday, December 8, 2014

Finals Are Over and the Lesters are Loving It

winter solstice and the end of fall term

For students, finals are events to dread and yet celebrate --- as with the turning of the seasons, they mark ends and beginnings.

Faculty by contract have a week to turn in grades after the last instructional day of the term, and so for most of us, finals week marks the start of a week with a few extra "D"s in it, sort of, "dread, dread, dread, THEN celebrate."

Most faculty will spend the post-finals week grading before happy hour can tip its happy martini our way. I don't think anybody looks forward to it, and I have to say that sometimes for me, there's a degree of sadness or even frustration when I see a student who had great potential give up right before the finish line. In Language Arts, we use a standardized grading rubric for English 097, 099, and 101 (available for anybody to see on the Language Arts page of the main AVC website), and alas, it's very product oriented. There's no boost for potential or even effort. All that matters is the answer to the question, "Does the paper fulfill the expectations of the assignment and does it live up to the expectations of the rubric?"

Those rubric guidelines include the markers for audience, thesis, development, and academic conventions. I suspect that most of my colleagues do their best to help papers fit into the highest slot on the rubric matrix that they can. Even if some students disappoint us (and themselves, I am sure), it is also true that some surprise us. Kudos to my night English 101 student --- she will know who she is --- whose term paper was 21 pages long. Wow! Right on. (And no, for any doubters out there, none of those 21 pages was filled with bull-shoot.) She is somebody whose career arc I can anticipate will be high indeed.

As I came onto campus over the weekend to grade final papers, I was struck again what an amazing place this is to work at. Is it just me or is the fall foliage just off the charts this year? Here is a picture from Saturday, looking towards the Fine Arts quad.

We've also had waves of birds passing through campus all week. On Friday, these red berries were the most popular item on the Christmas menu.

Especially fond of them were Western Bluebirds, a species that's on the official campus bird list but not often seen. They were everywhere in all the trees and bushes in front of the library. I didn't have my camera that day, so will rely on David Sibley's guide to birds of North America to lend a hand:

Twenty-four hours later, by Saturday there had been a shift change. The bluebirds were gone but in the alders outside LS1, it was Lesser Goldfinches who were on duty. They were feeding on the itty bitty little baby pine cones called "catkins." Here again is a David Sibley illustration:

These are tiny guys, nimble and active, and they don't mind hanging upside-down to eat. One nickname for them among birdwatchers (who can have a very nerdy sense of humor) is "Lesters." While they can occur anywhere in the Antelope Valley, we might more often expect them up in the foothills, such as in the cottonwoods around Lake Elizabeth, or in among the oaks of Green Valley. To have them on campus is a rare treat indeed.

On Saturday they were on campus all day, feeding actively. In summer it's hard to find birds midday but in winter, shorter days and colder nights mean they need to feed longer.

Final exams crowds right up against an ancient astronomical event, celebrated by cultures around the world. That is Winter Solstice, which in Los Angeles this year will occur at 3:03 p.m. on 21 December. From the Griffith Observatory: "That moment is the start of winter in the earth's northern hemisphere and the start of summer in the southern. It is also the moment when the sun, in its apparent path around the earth, reaches its southern-most point in the sky."

That is, the sun is up the least amount of time on that day, compared to any other day of the year, and it rises the furthest south of east that it ever will do. For ancient peoples, it must have been alarming to note the days getting shorter and shorter and the sun moving further and further away from its anchor point. What a relief it would have been to see the sun start to swing back towards its midpoint and then its summer high point.

The solstice coincides with a week that many religions mark as deeply significant. Whether you are going skiing, going to church, or just going bargain-hunting at the mall that week, AVC thanks you for being part of our community in 2014, and we hope that you join us in looking forward to an even more successful and productive 2015.


The AVC blog was curated today by Charles Hood, Language Arts, and he can be reached at The official campus bird list is undergoing a format change and will be released in "version 2.0" some time in early 2015. Until then, look around you --- the birds are here with or without a list.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Grandes Maestros at NHM and Day of the Dead at MOAH

L.A. and the Antelope Valley acknowledge our shared Hispanic heritage

above: Manuel Jimenez Ramiriz. Feline, 2001. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Two events this past week help validate how much social progress California is witnessing. When I grew up in East L.A., the Latino side of our shared cultural history often was ignored. There might be the odd Cinco de Mayo event here or there, and certainly many of my friends spoke Spanish in the home, but the visible manifestations of official state culture remained astoundingly white.

This bias was present everywhere and has been a hard prejudice to break. In school, the Hispanics called me "Paddy" (even though I am not the least bit Irish), and in trade, I called them ---- well, I called them things I much regret and no doubt will need to answer for some day in Heaven (or the other, warmer place).

Two exhibits help reveal the progress that is happening all around us.

At NHM, aka the Natural History Museum of L.A. County --- that grand institution that's 101 years old and located in Exposition Park near USC --- they have opened a survey titled "Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art." Over 800 objects (one tour guide told me 1,200, but the official website says 800) are on display, and all of them are examples of the best vernacular Latin American art, collected from living artists located in 22 countries. The Los Angeles Times calls it "Folk Art with a Twist."

Unlike the Norton Simon, the Getty, or LACMA, the Natural History Museum is doable by public transportation from AVC. Just take the Metrolink downtown, then at Union Station take the Red or Purple subway lines a few stops, and transfer at Metro Center for the last part of the ride on the Expo Line. (Doing this successfully the first time, and not having to pay parking at the destination side of the trip, can make you feel like an honorary New Yorker.)

It's a trip worth taking. Not only are the objects pretty much at 11 on the one-to-ten coolness scale, but because the exhibition is organized by medium (wood, textiles, and so on) and not by country, it really makes you appreciate the physicality of the objects. Somebody took a simple thing like a block of wood or slab of clay, and in a very basic workshop, turned it into art. You don't need a fancy New York gallery and you certainly don't need an MFA in art from Yale --- you just need a basic trust in yourself and a willingness to sit down and do good work.

Here is an image of Manuel Jimenez Ramirez, the genius who carved the blue jaguar shown above.

This is one of those shows where you don't know where to turn next, and that in my case, brings out a certain degree of envy. Here is something I would like to own, but lack the dedication to create myself. In case it's not clear, this is a full-sized cape. It fills the whole wall.

Credit on this is as follows: the artist goes by the name Dielson Jose. This 2008 piece from Brazil uses "cotton embroidered with fishbone stitch." As in, WOW. Next time I fumble around trying to mend a stray button, I am going to remember this --- and remember that I need to try harder.

The exhibits include digital captions, something I suppose will be inevitable as we go forward through history. Given how many objects there are (and that we can't be in touching distance of all of them), this makes good sense, even if it feels a bit counter-intuitive at first, at least to me. Here's how it works. First here is my shot of the object, then see a close-up of the the touch-screen iPad sort of thing that supports each mini-gallery.

There are also uniformed guides in each gallery as well, ready to help you understand more about what the objects mean culturally. In the end, I found it worked really well.

For us at AVC and the larger L.A. area, just what does this show (and the ones described below, at MOAH on Lancaster Blvd.) mean for us in Los Angeles County?

I talked about that with Kristin Friedrich, Director of Communications at NHM.

AVC Blog: What should the people of L.A. know about the show, or perhaps even be proud of?
L.A. is the first U.S. city to host this exhibit, and we have such strong ties to Latin America. What’s great about the Natural History Museum being the venue is that our audiences are totally aligned with the diversity of the city. Forty-five percent of L.A. traces ancestry to Latin America; 45 percent of this museum’s visitors are Latino.

This means that a lot of people will identify motifs and iconography they’ve seen in their familial homes growing up; some will recognize things they’ve known to be used in their family’s daily lives. Some will have seen similar objects in their travels. 

 And even if a visitor has no ancestral connection to these 22 countries, it’s amazing art, and it makes you see Latin America—and in many ways, L.A—in new ways. Some of the work is wickedly funny and irreverent, some absolutely serious and devout, some takes tradition seriously and some of it turns tradition totally on its side. And everything in between. 

AVC Blog: Yes, that's true in a piece like this. 

Cecilia Vargas. Pitalito Express (Eustorgio Inchima and Yorleny's Wedding), 2007.

Humor in Mexican folk art has been there since the 19th century, if not before.  
This of course is a print by Jose Guadalupe Posada, titled in English, The Bicycle Skeletons (circa 1895). He's satirizing the fate and political leanings of the main Mexican newspapers, some of whose names you can read as floating captions inside the print. (It may be hard to see in this narrow blog format: sorry). I had to make a decision about 10 years ago what art I might collect, and had to force myself to decide NOT to start collecting original Posadas. At the time, they were not that expensive (they've gone up since then), but I needed to make some choices, and one choice I made was to enjoy him via books, not as vintage prints.
His humor though can be seen in many aspects of our Day of the Dead culture today, north and south of the Mexican border.
Here is a deliciously faux-serious mask from the exhibition:
Caption on this is Moorish Ambassador, 2010, by Celio Efrain Lopez Gomez. Red-faced and bearded, with a slightly stunned look? After a day at the beach, this is more or less just what I look like. 

Next question for Kristen: how does NHM see this show as fitting in with the other aspects of the collection and/or mission? 

Our mission is to explore natural and cultural worlds, so this really hits the “culture” part of it, but interestingly, the “nature” part too. Folk art isn’t like other art. It’s more tied to the planet’s natural resources. In Grandes Maestros, there are objects made of wood and shell and plant dyes and bones. 
And there are a lot of animals that turn up. So you can walk inside and outside the museum, see those materials in their original incarnations, and then walk into this exhibit and see what these artists have done with them, or how they’ve been inspired by them.  
AVC Blog: Do you think this reflects a growing awareness of (or at least professional acceptance of) Latino culture by mainstream US institutions?
Absolutely. I think a lot L.A. institutions are aware and accepting of Latino culture. So though I think it’s a bit surprising we got the show, as a natural history museum, the fact that the show is in L.A. first is no surprise at all. 
What will be more interesting, to me at least, is to see where this show lands next. The group that helped us put all this together, Fomento Cultural Banamex, is in talks with several U.S. cities, some in the middle of the country. I think the journey the show takes, post-L.A., is going to be pretty revealing. 
For me, how that plays out visually will be fascinating as well. To take a painting from Guatemala, such as this one by Diego Isaias Hernandez Mendez, how he uses color in very different from the ways that a traditional, European-centered artist might approach the palette --- different yet successful. This one is titled in English, Danger in Picking Flowers and Bringing Down Kites on the Day of the Dead. It's from 2004.
It breaks up the pictorial plane in exciting ways, and makes me rethink my narrative assumptions about how to "read" a painting. This also quotes Mayan weaving and challenges the idea of representation in terms of named individuals, which otherwise is so dominant in Western art. Adding these choices into the conversation does not diminish traditional art history, but instead, expands it very productively.
In all, Grandes Maestros a fun show. Do add it to your to-do list, as it is up for some months yet.
While at NHM I was able to stock up on supplies for the weekend's other main event. Namely, I was able to restock my supply of temporary tattoos.
I am speaking now of things I picked up in order to attend the Day of the Dead fundraiser at MOAH, the Museum of Art and History on Lancaster Blvd. 
For me, I love any event that uses something like this as table centerpieces:
The evening had a full agenda.
Here is Mark (sorry, I did not get your last name?), providing music.

For those of us who didn't want to use our reading glasses to follow the program, MOAH was kind enough to post the large-print version.
 I think it's fair to say that everybody came to support the museum, but maybe in some tiny part of our hearts, we liked dressing up, too.
Here is a shot of Ron and Sharon, giving a visual version of the expression, "You complete me."
My photo of Andi and Angela being cell-phoned reminds us that if it's not on Facebook, it didn't happen.
The event is tied in with the current set of exhibitions, all of them centered on Hispanic artists and themes. One provocative gallery shows works from classical art, including the Mona Lisa, reshaded with supposedly "Mexican" skin tones. One of the points of this is to show how fake the coloration looks: nobody is just "brown," and in fact, humans come in an interesting range of tonal ranges, Latino and Anglo alike.
No, the walls are not brown too --- that's a color-balance problem on my camera. Here is the upstairs photo gallery, and I like it that the visitor studying the art seems to be dressed to match the images.
MOAH director Andi Campognone shared some of her feelings about what the museum is able to do. "That's the beauty of having the museum here on the Boulevard. Art is a great equalizer," she told me. "Look at everybody we have here tonight. We have members of the City government, folks from County leadership, members of the Hispanic business community. MOAH wants to help energize people, help us decide on our direction as a community. At an event like this, we have a chance to talk, to share our vision, to grow and change as a community."
As she and I traded stories on our own upbringings, she reminded me that when her Italian grandfather married into the family, the Scandinavian side of the union was appalled --- in essence, the Italians were too dark-skinned, too "ethnic" if you will. Yet even the Native Americans who crossed the Bering Land Bridge at the close of the last ice age, they too came to American relatively recently. "When you come down to it, we are all immigrants," Andi agreed. "Let's get a conversation started. Each part of American society has something interesting to share with the others."
That was the vibe throughout the evening. Hi to Monica Mahoney, below, whose outfit was exactly perfect. She is the Public Engagement Liaison at the museum. That means she curates shows and all public engagement programming with a focus on artist-centered engagement. I like her perspective, since she says that "I believe the arts come alive when engaged with in meaningful ways. We live in an exciting time where many museums are activating their collections and engaging the community with innovative strategies, making art and the museum experience more accessible and meaningful to all. Honoring the diverse cultures in our region is our priority."

Monica is also the lead grant writer and manager on special projects. For example, works with the Green MOAH Initiative, a hands-on  community engagement program that utilizes art and science as a catalyst for living creative and sustainable lives. The Initiative is project-based with a focus on illegal dumping, water scarcity, green energy, food justice, sustainable design.

Busy person, and a model for others. If I remember correctly, she was also doing some last minute touch-ups by face painting other guests. Is that something one can list on a c.v.? "Grant Manager, Public Liaison, and Day of the Dead Face-Painting Artist." (Probably at Google or Kickstarter, it is exactly what one should put on a c.v., along with references to yoga teaching skills and whether or not you have your own hot air balloon. At Antelope Valley College, I don't think HR is quite there yet, in terms of screening for equivalences.)

All of this progress feels very personal to me. I am not saying that Lancaster should not also have "Wild West Days" or that we can't dress up like cowboys, G.I. Joes, ballerinas, or whatever else turns us on. It just is wonderful to see NHM and MOAH and so many other area museums (the Autry, for example) finally giving full energy to Latino culture and heritage. This is something my family has been involved in for some time now. My aunt was an activist for Navajo and Hispanic rights in the 1950s and 1960s, and one way that she tried to prepare the ground for events like these was through children's books. Here is one that she wrote, focusing on Hispanic Christmas traditions.

(Yes, book design has come a long way since then. We're used to thinking of the '60s as being Woodstock and Jimi H and all of that, but a lot of the 1960s really just more of the same, in terms of really still being the 1950s.) 
In scanning the book for this blog, I was amused to see my aunt's 1967 dedication to me and my brother.

I love that she signs it with her name, followed by "the author." I want to follow that tradition now when I sign copies of my own books to people. (Maybe I can add an exclamation point, too.) 
AVC hosts a Day of the Dead altar each year on campus, managed by Communications Department Chair Tom Graves. I encourage blog readers to become involved and to contact him in order to help next year. His email is 
There is more to Latin American culture than just doing tequila shots on Cinco de Mayo and shuddering at news reports of yet another drug cartel beheading. I want to praise NHM and MOAH both, for helping to share with us a larger, more inclusive vision. 
It has been a long time coming. 

This week's AVC Blog posting was made by Charles Hood, Language Arts, and he can be reached at The blog is not an official policy statement of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole, nor does it mean to imply that shots of tequila are not, in themselves, fun. Drink responsibly, see these shows, and please help Mr. Graves with the AVC altar next year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AVC's Success Center is just that--a Success

Welcome to the newest space on campus.

Through a mix of Title V grant money, Basic Skills funding, and small handfuls of magic beans, two rooms inside the Learning Center now have been reconfigured to be the home of AVC's long-discussed, long-delayed, and now finally HERE support space, the Success Center.

This is really noteworthy, and this week's AVC Blog wants to spend a few moments thinking about the achievement, and looking ahead to what it might mean for our academic community.

In the Success Center, students can check email, work on supplements provided by their teachers, look at art books, be guided by a peer mentor, or just recharge the batteries in a quiet, supportive, pleasant environment. In the shot above, Cain Martinez helps a classmate work on math. Cain is a Student Learning Assistant, and about that crew of great mentors, more in just a moment.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a committee to --- well, hmm, I am never quite sure WHAT committees get done. I do know that through his efforts with the Basic Skills Committee, Santi Tafarella more than anybody else moved mountains of indifference and waded seas of skepticism to bring this site to completion. Great job, Santi!

He himself would be the first to admit that many others helped too, of course, including Dean Forte-Parnell and Linda Noteboom and Crystal Garcia and Vejea Jennings --- and many more besides. Thank you to Bill Vaughn, for example, for donating the dictionary that is the website logo, shown on the phone screen in the first picture, above.

Right now the key person helping to look out for the practical details is Crystal Garcia. According to her business card, Crystal is "Secretary, Title V and Basic Skills." Until some final shifts in reorganization get settled, she's helping to keep the day-to-day functions of the Success Center up and running. I don't want to create a ruckus with the Classified Union nor ever to suggest she is working beyond pay grade, but I will say when I need information, she's the person who knows what forms go where and why things happen in the order that they do. Here, in this shot, she is sharing with me some of the art books the Success Center now has ready for me to use.

Contrary to urban legend, I want to confirm that this is not a special space made for / kept hidden by / hogged up by the English faculty. It happens that some of the leadership to carry it out came from Language Arts, but Christos Valiotis and many other voices had a say too, and it is truly intended for all students, all disciplines.

True, there is a class set of poetry books . . . .

But right next to that is a class set of science materials:

On the wall are posters keyed to a phone app. Aim your phone at the poster and (like magic) the appropriate part of the body turns up, on your phone. Studying Anatomy is no harder than pre-ordering lunch from Panera Bread.

What's the benefit of this space? Crystal Garcia shared with me some of her thoughts:
"The variety of books and media available in Success Center enhances student learning and enhances cultural literacy, too. The resources open up the perceptions of possibilities, especially among our least empowered students. It really helps open up new areas of education."

Even more poetic, more passionate was Language Arts professor Vejea Jennings.

He told me, "Each day, we re-create this colorful space as a determined collective; we know our creativity and curiosity have the potential to transform everything around us, and this center helps us become part of the larger whole." That was seconded by English Chair Mark Hoffer, who added to Vejea's comments by agreeing that "it has the potential to be an extraordinary instructional space." 

This indeed has been my experience. I've used it with both English 097 classes and 099, and think there's a measurable difference in class performance if we do our writing projects in this space instead of (ahem) in a run-down room with ugly walls and projection equipment that doesn't work. It's not just me who has had this experience; here is Dr. Rachel Jennings, ready to share her own perspective:

The Success Center is an oasis. The cafe-esque ambiance encourages learning and inspires students to participate in intellectual exchange.

Earlier this week, I used the state-of-the-art-projector to show a movie clip. I followed this with group discussion of the movie's themes, enhanced by use of the class set of the book of Symbols

Having taught English at AVC for 13 years in computer-less classrooms, I was thrilled to hold writing workshops in the new venue today. The space is versatile and the resources are top-notch. Some students used computers around the perimeter of the room, while those who preferred peer feedback shared tables in the center.

There was ample space for me to circulate and help everyone (no clambering over desks was involved, as in my regular classrooms). Many students were so motivated that they stayed during the break to continue writing. I am so very thankful to the team that had the vision to imagine the possibilities.

We can only be as good as our staff, and from what I've seen, the student mentors are all super. Their technical title is "Student Learning Assistant," and the newest hire and hence the person I've met most recently is Cain Martinez.

His teammates include Rebecca Arant, Anthony Sanchez, Carolina Fuentes, Jordan Salazar, and Kevin Shoptaw. Hours and who can do what in the evenings and so on is still being worked out. Like any start-up, there will be some additions to policy that may need to be fussed with a bit, or a final sense of how best to spend limited resources. This was up on the whiteboard yesterday, when I was taking some photos:

Key word is "subject to change" --- I am sure the use pattern and staffing issues will continue to evolve. Need a boost in spirits? There's a mix of practical advice and whimsy present on the ever-changing "Positive Wall." Here's what's up now.

In the picture, you can't read the smallest notes. What do they say? Good question --- why not stop by in person and find out? For those people like me who mostly know where things are if compared to where things used to be, the Success Center is the east part of the Learning Center where the Reading and LS-90 classes used to be held, way back when.

I for one am very happy that Santi et alia stuck with it and made it a reality. One idea is that instructors can keep office hours there; this is not a space just for students to use, but faculty too, and it will be fun to watch how to can enhance more cross-disciplinary contact and better support for our Basic Skills students. One of my first-night activities in any Basic Skills English class is the special "Let's go find the owls" campus tour. Besides looking for the owls (or at least their coughed up pellets of mouse bones), we go to the Health Science Building, the Art Gallery, the Black Box and Main Theatres, the Library, and the Writing Center. Now we can add to that a new stop, the Success Center.

(We also go to my office, and I just about force everybody to touch the door. "Here, THIS is where it is. THIS ONE, right here. Remember this hallway. Now you know how to find me --- come back often!")

If anybody has anything negative to say about the Success Center, I've not heard it, and that's saying a lot on this campus, where kvetching seems to be the number one hobby. To quote from Miranda in Shakespeare's Tempest, " O, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here. / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in't."

When we think about what our legacies will be as AVC employees, those folks who helped bring us the brave new world of the Success Center will have reasons to smile indeed.

later --- just a post script. Since the blog went up, there's now a Keurig coffee maker in the Success Center, in the smaller, corner room (LC 114). It's BYOKC ... Bring Your Own Keurig Cup. Please don't take drinks into the main Learning Center. Inside the Success Center, though, this is already very popular.

Also, there will be an art gallery function as well --- look above the windows in LC 114 after the first of the year.


Today's blog was posted by Language Arts instructor and Shakespeare quoter Charles Hood. (He took the photos, as well.) He can be reached at or at (661) 722 - 6472. For more information on the Success Center, its hours, or how to donate a class set of books, please contact Crystal Garcia at (661) 722-6300 (x6844). Her email is

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Maya Lin, Wedding Poetry, and the Ice Cream Brain Freeze Rush of Too Many Ideas at Once

notes about creativity

Charles Hood here, making a brief guest appearance while the “Under New Management” aspect of the AVC Blog continues to evolve.

I have just come back from one of those kinds of events that has you remembering things days later, and saying, “Oh yeah, how cool was that?” It was the Center for Art + Environment Conference at Nevada Museum of Art, a reminder yet again of how fun it is (a) to get to hang out with interesting people and (b) to get to fill up a trick-or-treat bag with ideas, ideas, and more ideas, all free for the asking.

In class we were talking about nursery rhymes the other night, and the “marriage poem” came up. I reminded students that traditionally it’s not four lines long, but five:

Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
something blue,
and a silver sixpence in her shoe.

Like so many pieces of classic folklore that endure and endure, this one seems to fit many situations perfectly, this conference included. The rhyme --- and the conference --- keep staying with me.

Something old:

How old is the wind? (Well, how old is the atmosphere?) In the Antelope Valley, we live with the wind all year long, but most especially in spring, as these pines on my block verify.

Invisible, everywhere, nowhere—how can artists show the wind to us, help us think about it? At the conference we had a presentation by my heroes, the math / Google artists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg. They gave us a wind map that's free and online, and that I'll show a bit further down this post. First just a quick (very quick) survey of things artists have done prior to this, when they show / talk about / think about wind.

In Basque Spain, Eduardo Chillida made a "wind comb" in 1976. (This photo and several below come from The Book of the Wind, Alessandro Nova.)

It works even in still weather, especially since the sea always is doing something. I bet it must be really amazing in a pounding winter storm.

If you can read Spanish, there's a full entry for this on the Spanish language version of Wikipedia. Artists have long shown the effects of wind, as in this medieval manuscript:

Or as in this dramatic and chaotic scene by Turner.

But how can we show the wind itself? Not the results, but the actual force itself? After sharing with us their failed ideas, Viegas and Wattenberg talked a bit about a free map that I just have fallen in love with. Here's my screen capture just before Hurricane Sandy hit.

Unlike my screen grab, the map is not static, and little horse-tails of wind are always in motion all across the Lower 48, in real time. The website for this is

The website says this: "The wind map is a personal art project, not associated with any company. We've done our best to make this as accurate as possible, but can't make any guarantees about the correctness of the data or our software. Please do not use the map or its data to fly a plane, sail a boat, or fight wildfires."

My wife couldn't be in Reno for this event, and when she found out I had met the wind map people, she added that to the list of things about me that really annoy her. (Another was that I saw a wild Pallas's Cat without her last summer in Tibet.)

Something new:

Kate Clark’s 2014 piece Licking the Plate was commissioned for the exhibition titled Late Harvest, up at the Nevada Museum of Art right now. I rarely use a word like mesmerizing about a piece of art, but this one truly transfixes a viewer, stopping person after person in her or his tracks. A full-size taxidermied kudu—an African game species much prized by Hemingway—has been given a human face. Take that, Star Trek: this is much creepier (and much grander) than anything one ever sees in the company of Captain Kirk.

The image here comes from the exhibition catalog for the Late Harvest show:

Is this piece saying that all animals have a face or soul? Inuit hunters would agree, if so. Or is it a comment on us as Homo sapiens --- we are each partly an animal, inside? We don't mind if it artists give animals a tiny bit of anthropomorphic modeling, as Audubon did with these owls.

If the artist takes it too far, though, it unsettles most people very greatly, myself included. You want to tell this kudu-centaur-mermaid-priestess, "Stop looking back: you're bugging the bejesus out of me."

Goya would admire it, since his Disasters of War etchings are so brutal and honest and unflinching that one can barely stand up under their witnessing. This piece will be up until January, and I urge folks to make the drive to see it in person. 

Something borrowed:

This image also comes from the Late Harvest exhibition catalog but represents an absence. The piece itself, after a nightmare of export permits and negotiations, was headed to the US to be in the art show, but then it turns out that while it was in storage insects had done their thing and the piece was too fragile and too damaged to be shipped. 

This is both a sculpture and the projection of a sculpture: look on the wall to see how the assembled animals create the profile of a man and a women. I quote from Joanne Northrup's very helpful introductory essay in the catalog. "Tim Noble and Sue Webster's British Wildlife (2000) is a complex shadow sculpture that includes eighty-eight taxidermy animals: forty-six birds (thirty-five species), forty mammals (eighteen species), and two fish." The project is partly an homage to Mr. Noble's father, who had acquired the Victorian specimens as props when he taught drawing classes. As Ms. Northrup says, the piece encompasses "fundamental dyads: light and shadow, form and anti-form, nature and culture, predator and prey, male and female, life and death."

It also is a testament to the transience of all matter, given that it's no longer in showable condition. (The artists had other pieces to represent their work, instead.) An assemblage like this may have some slight degree of "eeeww" factor, along the lines of "those poor animals" or "how barbaric." To my mind, this is too easy of a response. Let's just take one species, the Ring-necked Pheasant, a common game bird in England, and, after its introduction, common even in America. 

I've seen them not far from Reno itself, between Carson City and Minden, and around Antelope Valley College they occur along Ave D towards Quail Lake and up in Green Valley. Besides its introduction throughout the U.S., a pheasant is a very "British" bird, the kind of thing landed gentry would hunt on large estates. They are mentioned in Shakespeare and are one of about ten species that most lay people in England can name on sight.

(Photo credit: um, sorry, it's "out there" on the Internet but I can't find any authorship credits.

Yet the pheasant is not native to Europe but instead to China, and so its presence in British culture --- the Bard not withstanding --- is in some ways misleading. They're not native there nor here, and to say it's wrong to shoot them is to be perhaps too immediately judgmental. It might be that in shooting pheasants the British hunters are doing good things, if they were in some way creating better conditions for a less common and more properly indigenous species. Similarly, we probably all have an opinion about fox hunting, to name another species frequently seen in taxidermy shops, but the objective fact is that the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the most successful, widespread carnivore in the world. You think the coyote is adaptable and widespread? Our friend the coyote ain't got nuthun on the fox, which can be see in midday in Kew Gardens, at dusk by the Dead Sea in Israel, outside of Nome, Alaska, near the Mongolian border in China, or even trotting at dawn along an expressway in New Jersey. (How do I know? Range maps tell me so, plus in each of those instances, I've seen them myself.) It may well be wrong to shoot any animal for any purpose, but to shoot a fox, stuff it, and use it in an art piece (recycled or otherwise) will not change the worldwide status of the red fox.

Ethics and the distribution of candis aside, that shadow piece and the others similar to it strike me as extravagantly cool. Right on for art (and for the art museum), if it gives us experiences like that.

Something blue:

I have met Santa Monica-based Lita Albuquerque before and she impresses me more each time we speak. That may be because we share an affection for (and former art residencies in) Antarctica. A new book celebrates Stellar Axis, her installation in Antarctica that mapped out the unseen stars present in the sunlight-all-the-time austral summer sky. This picture comes from that book, released a few weeks ago by the Nevada Museum of Art and Skira Rizzoli. Here is the book cover and a shot of the installation.

The concept included participation by and interaction from science and support staff based in Antarctica, as this aerial shot from the book shows:

A good overview of her work can be found on her website,

and a silver sixpence in her shoe.

Maya Lin is best known to the general public for the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C., and that indeed is one of the most remarkable pieces of memorial architecture since the Renaissance. Her art and architecture since then have explored many other themes, subjects, media, and geographies, and for the Nevada Museum of Art her exhibition up now considers Arctic ice / Arctic rivers and hence, by implication, Arctic futures.

This is a topic that I have been thinking about as well, and this photo was taken within about 600 miles of the North Pole. Is there less ice each year? Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is in trouble; I have seen it myself.

Maya Lin does many interesting things with topography, sea ice histories, and wave patterns. Among her art projects are representations of river systems cast in recycled silver. One thing about her exhibits and her website though, she sure does not like random bloggers like me doing right-click borrowings of her images. Her main gallery, Pace, feels the same way. Even captions for images are hard to come by. Here though is a representative of a wall-sized piece cast in silver that shows how she represents ocean basins.

This shot is a screen grab from her website, It's a really interesting place; it too is highly recommended.

The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art does something I have benefited from personally and try to model in my own teaching and life, and that is that it's really good at creating the right conditions for collaboration. Maya Lin spoke about this during her talk.

When asked about working with a team on projects, she said, "I leave my artist ego at the door; I need to disappear." Why? It's all about results. Maya Lin: "True success is the real connection. My goal is to put the visitor back into the landscape, and how that happens does not matter, just so long as it DOES happen."

I think one mistaken notion we've inherited from the Romantics is the idea of the mad scientist or the crazy poet locked in a tower. Even if we go back to High Modernism (which had as much a cult of personality as any contemporary issue of People magazine), there would never have been T.S. Eliot's masterpiece The Wateland if he and Ezra Pound had not sat down to go over a rough draft. Luckily, their notes survive, or at least Pound's comments right on the manuscript. (What Eliot said we can't be quite so certain about.)

I tried to pick a sample page where Pound had not just crossed out everything on the whole page top to bottom, and one on which he had not scribbled bad words in furious frustration. (Hi, Ez, I know how you feel.) His grumpiness helped, though; Eliot's 1922 book-length poem is widely credited as the single most important poem in the past 100 years. (As a side note, Modernism marks the arrival of the typewriter as a mean of production, and with it, the sense of the page as a typographical space.)

After too many years of in-fighting and territoriality, it feels like our campus is about to put into practice some of the ideas that I have seen carried out at the Nevada Museum of Art. AVC Language Arts teacher Scott Covell is making a zombie movie (slash parody of MTV music videos slash meditation on the power of images), and he recently let me sit in on a shooting session. 

He brought together folks from six departments on campus, and all I can say is, (a) making a movie is hard work, and (b), as I stated earlier on, hanging out with productive, smart, energized people is the best rush there is. He has a follow-up feature planned for next summer, and Covell asked if I would be willing to go with him when he approaches the Foundation for funding.

"Damn straight, amigo," I told him. It's just as Maya Lin says: "What matters are the connections. Who cares about status or name badges? Get some committed people together, give them permission to generate all the ideas they want, and then just stand back and watch great things happen."


Charles Hood teaches in Language Arts and can be reached at This blog does not represent the views or endorsement of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole, and the AVC Blog in no way wishes to suggest that you go out tomorrow and shoot foxes, pheasants, or any other animal, native or introduced.