Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Talking about Land Management

Five incredible people influenced my work this week. And many of the conversations seemed to revolve around the theme of land management - in what ways can we / should we be managers of the land and in what ways should we not?

The first of my conversations this week was with Ariel Greenwood. She is a grazier in California, and thus works very closely with the land and animals there. Her role involves planning out how the cattle on the land will graze it and then doing the physical labor to make that happen. She discussed with me her appeal to the role of "grazier" as opposed to "rancher" and how it somewhat subversively allows her to get paid for taking care of the land. People are paying for the product - the beef, but her main priority is the land stewardship. Ariel also discussed the challenges of this role and how isolating it can be. She described her vision for more social versions of grazing and bringing more people into this practice. 

Next I spoke with Renee Crowley, a project manager at the LES Ecology Center. Like Vanessa, from earlier in the semester, Renee emphasized the ability for citizens to steward street trees - something that many people are unaware of. As this is the 4th time this has now come up, I am very intrigued by the idea of taking soil samples and then stewarding the street trees in front of my apartment and SVA. Renee also spoke with me about an organization called 596 Acres which helps people to identify vacant lots for community greening projects (sounds very familiar to my bud service design from earlier this semester!) 

Kyla Fullenwider, currently a Presidential Innovation Fellow, was our guest critic for class on Monday when we presented our social entrepreneurship sprints. It was fascinating to hear about the work she is doing. She urged me to push further with investigating the existing norms around manicured lawns, as it is so entrenched. She also asked me why I am interested in this thesis topic. This isn't the first time someone has asked me this - John Thackara did too. But I haven't really thought about it very much. I find myself able to develop interest in many areas because in the end I'm just interested in learning. The one more personal connection I can make is through dance. The subtitle of my thesis is currently "a visceral approach to sustainability". The physicality of dance is the way I process emotion and thought. I want to explore the physicality and the corporeal aspect of sustainability and environmentalism in hopes to appeal to people emotionally.

I was able to have an interview with Jana Richman this week as well. She, without prompting, managed to speak to all of the various subtopics I have been investigating: from overpopulation to barefootedness. She discussed with me the extent to which we have become dormant in our connection to our environment, but our innate ability to reconnect, if prompted. She also questioned whether we deserve to learn, to change, and to survive. Would it just be better for the planet if humans went extinct? She, like Stephanie Welch, shared with me the history of barefooted backlash due to anti-hippie sentiment. And finally, she recommended I look into the spiritual aspect of this area of inquiry - as religion influences the priority people place on "this life" and "this place". 

On Wednesday night, we were fortunate to have Tony Dunne of Dunne and Raby give a guest lecture at our department. His work and ideas around futuring and alternate world creation is very inspiring to my thesis. He spoke of a project during which students at RCA were each connected to science/engineering research groups, learned about the projects/research being conducted, and created design objects/ideas around that. I could easily see myself doing this for my thesis as well - getting in contact with a research lab here in NYC in the area of conservation biology or ecology and learning about their work to inspire my own. I also appreciated his sharing of the themes that were used to shape the worlds in their United Micro Kingdoms project (including energy, tech, government, nature, and transportation). I would like to explore my thesis through future/alternate world creation but have struggled with where to start. Tony Dunne provided several tools for me to get started.

Jenna Witzleben