Faculty Spotlight: Wennie Huang

Wennie Huang, with her son, Cameron, and her father, TJ, who recently retired from nearly 50 years of college teaching, in front of her childhood home where her parents still live – this snapshot was taken by her mom, Chen.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up in New York? Where are you based currently? Do you have any pets?

I was born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, and being second-generation Taiwanese-American in a mostly homogenous rural area, I always felt like an outsider; both incredibly conspicuous, and also awkward and socially invisible, despite having great friendships in school. We all made fun of New Yorkers and city-people, so it’s really funny that I live and work in the city now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love how I can disappear and become anonymous when I want, and no one notices me. It’s wonderful to blend in, finally. I live in a part of Brooklyn which feels like a true melting pot of the world. I love that I can step outside to a variety of world cuisines and spoken languages. Living between two man-made preserves, Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park, I’m immersed in this saturated nexus of culture, history, and nature. I have no pets but I do have a 16-year-old son who craves protein like a large dog.

Greenwood Cemetery, Wennie Huang

What’s your favorite subway line?

My favorite subway line of the moment is the Q. I love the new MTA artwork at the upper end of the line, one by my dear friend and force of nature, Jean Shin.

What brought you to Parsons?

An opportunity to teach in the First Year brought me to Parsons back in 2008, and I’ve been here ever since. I have taught at a number of places and what was immediately distinctive about Parsons is how friendly the faculty are with one another, and how collegial. Even the directors are incredibly accessibly and there is just a general culture of camaraderie, cooperation and collaboration. I love how nimble the programs are to change and adjustment, and how reflective and responsive the curriculum is to student needs and developments in design. I felt immediately welcome, and encouraged to thrive and engage with my department, the school and the university, and I value deeply the learning I have taken part in, and the opportunities that continue to challenge and inspire me.

What classes do you teach at Parsons?

The classes that I teach at Parsons are: Space and Materiality: Body or Culture, [LS] Integrative Studio 1: Memory or Shift and [LS] Integrative Studio 2: Fashion.

I also teach a 4-workshop series on sewing basics each semester through Parsons First Year that are open to anyone, including faculty, and requires no registration. Workshops are 7 – 9:30 pm and either in the Making Center or the University Center, and are coordinated through the First Year program. This series includes: Sewing Basics: Getting Started on the Sewing Machine, Sewing Basics 2: Pattern-Making, Sewing Basics 3: Sewing on a Curve: Voids, Pockets, Sleeves and Sewing Basics 4: Surface Manipulation and Lining Insertions.

What are some of your favorite coffee and food spots around the University area?

Joe’s for coffee…Ennju for their Japanese buffet…Dainobu for their Japanese grocery….and I check out the University Center cafe from time to time, too!

Describe your work and research a bit? How did you become passionate about it?

Right now, I’m obsessed with making paintings of dead animals. I go to the American Museum of Natural History several times a month after the museum is closed to paint watercolors of the animals in the dioramas. I am fascinated by the technical challenge of working in the dark looking at things behind glass, but also by the unknown lives of these animals and their ultimate sacrifice in the name of human sciences and conservation. I love giving them that sparkle in their eye, restoring their life through illusion. I love old stuff. It’s that cemetery obsession I have. I think it’s because I don’t have ancestral roots here. so I am particularly attracted to old dead stuff. Maybe it’s the Mary Shelley in me. I can be a little gothic. I also obsessively document and take photographs of trees in Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park, especially in winter when the leaves are gone. I love the silhouette of the branches and I cut up the photographs to remake trees forms which I then translate in other media.

American Museum of Natural History Animal Drawing Program with Patricia Wynne, The Thinker, Chimpanzee in Watercolor, 2018 by Wennie Huang

What is the most important thing that you want the Parsons and First Year communities to know about you? About your work?

I don’t know whether there is a most important thing, but what I do know is that I never know where exactly my work is going and instead choose to follow where it takes me. That’s the draw for me, no pun intended – not knowing where it’s going. It’s why I draw and make. And it’s why I do research. At a certain point, things will come together and I do my job by noticing this and facilitating the “gelling” moment, mostly just to see what will happen, and what will happen after that. It’s curiosity that drives me more than anything.

What would you say is your favorite part of teaching?

My favorite aspects of teaching are the intellectual discovery and hands-on engagement; learning about what each student is interested in and why, and having a hand in helping them as they go about building it.

Integrative Studio students shooting stop motion animation for Bridge Project 3, October 2018

And the most challenging part?

I find it challenging to witness and be helpless in impacting or aiding students who are experiencing profound life distress. I’m a parent myself, and I care deeply for each student, and it is painful to watch them suffer, and be unable to improve their situation.

What do you like most about working with and mentoring students?

Honestly, there is never a dull moment. Each project, each student provides a distinctly unique perspective on design and its relation to function, materials, space, and society, so I am always learning more about how people think and the way things work as I teach.

What is the most helpful advice you received?

There are two. First: “Leave the room.” I tend to hover, and another teacher suggested that occasionally, it’s good to leave the classroom, and to let the students interact with their projects and each other without me circling around. The other is “Do it with them.” Which is like parallel-play. When it’s time for students to (stop being distracted by their phones and instead,) focus on their projects, I should work right alongside them. It’s amazing how well this one works!

Space and Materiality students, test-flying kites of their own design in Washington Square Park, November 2018

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a First Year student?

It’s hard to pick just one piece of advice for a First Year student. Regarding design, my advice would be to “keep it simple” to start, and build complexity when you have achieved each level. I find that First Year students have a tendency to either make projects overly complex, then get completely stuck on how to even start; Or they oversimplify, and fail to stretch and reach for the next level. Regarding making it through the First Year? Make friends whose work ethic you admire, get as much sleep as you can, and pace yourself.

Tell us about what influences you and your work. To what extent has this influenced you?

Research and random events influence me and my work. I love noticing coincidences and overlaps between unrelated elements and what such events produce and propose. This seems to happen a great deal in nature, and it certainly happens a great deal in an urban environment; how the present moment can propose a line of inquiry as well as how research can both filter and refract daily experiences. This feeds directly into my artwork, where craft and chance collaborate. The pre-existing conditions of a site, including its history, impact the direction of my art installations, not unlike how the wind lifts, teases, and dumps a kite. I like the challenge of keeping things buoyant and in balance, but just barely.

Word and Image Collaboration with Ed Go: Gun Flip Transforming to Branch, Wennie Huang

If you could go back and tell yourself something as an undergraduate / First Year student, what would that be?

Geez, I was a pretty anxious, high-achieving student on scholarship. I would give myself a big long hug and say, “Don’t worry so much. Everything will be ok.”