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September 15, 2022

Work with 'stardust' in upcoming ceramics workshops | These new place names rock with the times | Clean up on channel 5! Fox's "The Cleaning Lady" gives Vegas a close-up 

THIS FALL, VISITING ARTISTS Amber Aguirre and Richard Wehrs will each teach a workshop at Clay Arts Vegas, a local ceramic studio and art space.  Fifth Street got together with the artists, across three time zones, to discuss their work. The conversation has been edited for clarity and concision. 

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To start, since you both know of each other’s work, could you describe the other person’s work in your own words?

Amber Aguirre (pictured right): Richard's work is creepy-awesome. I love it. (Laughs)

Is creepy okay?

Richard Wehrs: Creepy's perfectly fine. Creepy, quirky, I hear all kinds of things.

AA: I love your textures. The faces are just wild. They're like out of my dreams or nightmares or something. 

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RW: I appreciate that. When I was in grad school, somebody talked about the tension between attraction and repulsion, that phenomenon of you can't help but look at an accident on the highway.

AA: The train wreck, yeah. I subscribe to that notion too. I like the contrast. I like things that can be kind of cute but then they've got a creepy aspect to them, or when you look there's more to it. 

RW: You have the interesting aspect of using a white body, and then there are aspects of the surface that, if they were fine china, would be flaws. 

AA: Well, that's the exact opposite thing again, the contrast. I'm using fine porcelain, but I'm using a technique called Naked Fauxku that I developed. It isn't cracked, but it looks cracked. You're combining something precious with something damaged, and that adds to the narrative of contrast.

RW: Totally, isn't that the truth. Clay is the natural medium to use in working with notions of the human condition. Not only are we chemically very, very similar — take away the carbon (and we are) very similar to clay — but we're also sharing a fundamental quality of fragility. We're all destined for brokenness, and we all experience brokenness on one level or another along the way.  

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What will you be teaching in your workshop?

AA: I'm doing small bunny sculptures that can hang on the wall. I'm doing 365 rabbits for a solo show in Davis, and that’s next year, the year of the rabbit. I think I've made 250 so far, so I kind of have it down to a science, and I think it’s a thing that I can have students be really successful at.

RW: I do a demonstration having to do with the fundamental notion of clay's immediate transfer of texture when you press it against something. That's really important to my work. I can't hardly stand to have more than a couple square inches that don't have something going on. So, my play time with a demo is to invite people to bring things from their home with which they can create a pattern or a texture. 

I'm curious about the terminology between clays. I imagine there’s a kind of historic hierarchy between the materials, with porcelain being on top. I'm curious why you chose the form of clay that you chose. 

RW: You’re absolutely right that there's a hierarchy and porcelain is definitely at the top, and it’s also ironically one of the most difficult to work with, particularly for sculpture. So Amber is pulling off not only an aesthetic marvel, but a technical one as well. Porcelain is infamously difficult to use as a sculptural material.

AA: Such a pain in the butt.

RW: At the other end of the spectrum is lowly earthenware, which is under the ground just about everywhere. It’s the most common, but it's also the easiest to work with, and the firing range of it is much lower. Amber is the risky one. Holy cow, porcelain sculpture.

AA: I have to use that because I want that pure white background. I just love that contrast, and we're back to contrast, the Naked Fauxku black on the white background. … It’s a shocking contrast. 

What exactly about porcelain is so challenging?

AA: Let's say you want to put an ear on a bunny. With earthenware, you can just kind of stick it on. Porcelain doesn't want to stick to itself; it doesn't want to stay in the position you put it in. If you're throwing a pot in porcelain versus throwing a pot in another kind of clay, you can pull it two or three times and then it will collapse on you. It's very plastic, is the way we refer to it, and it doesn't stand up well. 

RW: The more you know of the technical side of it, the more impressive Amber’s work becomes. By contrast, earthenware, which is what I use, I let it dry at any rate it chooses to. I just leave it out on a shelf, and it never cracks. I'm firing at about 200 to 250 degrees cooler than Amber’s work. If we fired my clay at the temperature she fires porcelain, it would actually melt to liquid and bubble.

AA: And ruin your kiln.

RW: And ruin your kiln (laughs). There's quite a lot of technical difference between our materials but underlying it all there’s definitely a lot of commonalities.

AA: Mhmm, I mean it's silica. It's stardust. It's what we're all made of.  

Amber Aguirre’s workshop, Accentuate the Narrative, will take place September 24-25, and Richard Wehrs’ workshop, Strange & Beautiful, will take place October 1-2. For more information, vist the Clay Arts Vegas website.

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THE NAMES OF 34 Nevada geological features will be renamed to remove an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur used against Indigenous women, the Department of the Interior announced Thursday.

A total of 650 features nationwide with sq— in the name will be renamed following a vote by the Board of Geographic Names. 

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” Secretary Deb Haaland says, in a media statement.

“I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

A map of the locations can be found here

During the public comment period, nearly 70 Tribal governments participated in nation-to-nation consultation to recommend new names, the department says. 

“The renaming effort included several complexities: evaluation of multiple public or Tribal recommendations for the same feature; features that cross Tribal, federal and state jurisdictions; inconsistent spelling of certain Native language names; and reconciling diverse opinions from various proponents. In all cases, the Task Force carefully evaluated every comment and proposal,” the release says. “Secretary's Order 3404 and the Task Force considered only the sq— derogatory term in its scope.”

The renaming extends beyond Nevada's geological features and includes bodies of water throughout the U.S.

Jolie Varela, citizen of the Tule River Yokut and Paiute Nations, describes how she and members of the outdoors group she founded, Indigenous Women Hike (IWH), had a hand in renaming a California lake. On a 2018 hike, Varela and other IWH members fell a bit short of their intended destination and found themselves at Sq— Lake along the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevadas.

"As Indigenous women, it didn’t feel right. We talked about it, and decided then to symbolically rename the lake. We decided upon Nüümü Hu Huupi ... meaning 'Paiute women,'" Varela recalls. Today, that renaming is more than symbolic. 

After the Department of Interior announced their renmaing efforts, IWH members took notice. "One of our supporters, or possibly multiple, remembered our story of the symbolic name change we made ... and submitted the Nüümü Hu Huupi name," Varela says. Now, the lake officially goes by the name IWH members came up with during their 2018 hike.

"One day I hope all the colonial names for mountains, passes, lakes and trails — not only on my ancestral lands, but all over Turtle Island — will be changed to reflect the many Nations that have always called them home," Varela says.

The order has also created a committee to look into additional derogatory terms. The next steps of that committee will be released in the coming weeks.

Nevada Public Radio presented an eight-part podcast series on the culture, issues, and perseverance of Nevada’s Indigenous Peoples. 

Episode 2, "The People From Here," discusses "the violent history contained in 'the S-word.'" 


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THE LAS VEGAS-SET crime drama  The Cleaning Lady balances two sides of the city: the glamorous world of wealthy power brokers often involved in criminal activity and the struggles of the working-class support staff who help them maintain that lifestyle. Main character Thony De La Rosa (Élodie Yung) is an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines, who first comes to Vegas seeking medical treatment for her young son. A doctor in her home country, she’s unable to get anything other than menial jobs in Vegas, and a chance encounter with an organized crime boss leads her to working as a “cleaner” for a dangerous cartel.

The show’s second season, premiering September 19 at 9 p.m. on Fox, continues to complicate life for Thony, who’s connected both to crime boss Arman Morales (Adan Canto) and to FBI agent Garrett Miller (Oliver Hudson). This season also adds  Lost’s Naveen Andrews as Robert Kamdar, an unpredictable new player in the Vegas underworld. Showrunners Miranda Kwok and Melissa Carter spoke to  Fifth Street about the show’s unique approach to depicting Vegas.

What was the initial inspiration for setting the series in Vegas?

Miranda Kwok: There’s a couple of reasons. One, the show is about cleaning ladies. What’s the mess she’s going to have to clean up next? And delving into that fun of anything can happen in Vegas. And there’s also the whole upstairs/downstairs element of it. Vegas is such a city of dreams and hope and wealth and extravagance, and yet there’s this whole section of the population that is holding up the city: the service people, the cleaning ladies, the cab drivers. We never really shine a spotlight on them. So in a show that is about elevating people who are marginalized, it made sense to show how they work so hard to keep the city going but they never get that recognition.

How did you decide on featuring a Filipina protagonist?

MK: I know that there is actually a huge Filipino population in Vegas, both undocumented immigrants and Filipino (immigrants) as well. So that was definitely a part of the choice to dig into that sector — to showcase this community that really is a community, that really does pull together. That is something that we wanted to feature on the show.

Melissa Carter: When we shot the pilot, we shot at the Rio, and all the people working at the casino, working at Starbucks, they would wear name tags that would say where they were from. Rosa from the Philippines ... every morning I said hello to her when I got my Starbucks. ... It seemed to be predominantly Filipino women working there.

What did you learn from your research on criminal activity in Vegas?

MK: The mob has pulled out of Vegas, in a way. Corporations took over. What I found in the research is that a lot of crime is more opportunistic. So it’s not really based on racial lines as strictly as it was in the ’80s and ’90s, and things have opened up. So we wanted to show that in our world as well. 

What does setting the show in Vegas allow you to do that you couldn’t do with a show set elsewhere?

MC: The Strip is so iconic. As Miranda said, it’s so lavish and garish and outrageous, that I think it allows us to create characters within that world that can be more like Robert Kamdar, who’s played by Naveen Andrews. We instantly knew that he was going to be flashy, fun, well-educated, from England, but set in Vegas. He’s driving Lamborghinis, he’s wearing really expensive clothes, he’s spending money right and left. That allows you to create a certain type of character that would exist and thrive in an environment like Las Vegas.

MK: People do throw around wealth and money in a place like Vegas. And again, to show the stark contrast as well, of people who are throwing away money like it’s nothing, and other people who are living below the poverty line, like our characters.

How often do you get to shoot on location in Vegas?

MC: In season one, we shot four days total. Two days in the pilot, and then two days at the end. I had learned this from a previous show I did: we just shot little tiny scenes. We brought four directors in, and we parceled those out over four episodes. So you really get the feeling of Vegas, and not just all in the pilot and then the finale. This

season, we’re only going to go for two episodes, 11 and 12. Our release date schedule is so intense, so we weren’t able to backfill things like we were in season one.

MK: And we have such an incredible production designer, Roshelle Berliner. She has created Vegas in Albuquerque for us on these amazing sets, so that’s helped us a lot as well.

With such a limited time to shoot in town, how do you decide which locations are important to depict?

MC: For us, we can recreate sets that look like Vegas. We can create a casino, a sports book, a fancy hotel in Albuquerque, but the Strip is so iconic. It’s the epicenter of Vegas. So we try to put a lot of things in and around the Strip when we go, because that’s just instantly recognizable as Vegas. This year, we’re hoping to shoot either at the pools at Caesars Palace, or an interior of a restaurant where you couldn’t be anywhere else but Vegas.

Do you have any favorite Vegas movies or TV shows that you draw influence from?

MC:  Casino. We did shoot at the Plaza under that great valet station when you pull in where Sharon Stone is tipping valets. It’s such an iconic place. It’s one of the few places in Vegas that hasn’t been torn down and they haven’t built something else. I did watch a bit of  Hacks, which I think does a great job of also using all those special places in Vegas and giving you the feel that you’re there.

Season 2 of The Cleaning Lady  premieres September 19 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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Photos and art: License to Kiln courtesy of Amber Aguirre; Landing on a Change courtesy of the State of Nevada; See You at the Sweeps courtesy of Fox

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