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.

Rewilding Challenge: Days 3-8

Rewilding Challenge Day 3

This challenge was about pace, speed, movement. What a day for that. I was running around like a crazy person. I didn't even feel like I could make time to go sit in a park. Instead I counted my "nature time" as sitting by the window and staring off to the distant hills. It was too dark already to see any birds.

But I suppose it's fitting. I sat there an I watched the hills, the still trees on the top of a nearby residential building, and the clouds slowly changing from pink to purple to blue as the sun set. How envious was I of those hills and trees and clouds. How I wished I too could just be still. Even sitting there watching them I was consistently fidgeting, getting distracted by people talking nearby. I need more time for stillness...  I need more time for rest. I need more time to be actually outside, not just my pathetic excuse for nature time.

When it's just my responsibility for something. There's less pressure. But today I was responsible to a group of people - my branding team, the gallery committee, the department. Perhaps I can sneak some stillness into tomorrow.

Rewilding Challenge Day 4

This challenge was skying (aka looking up at the sky). I am thrilled to say I was able to squeeze in 30 minutes to do this in Madison Square Park. I plopped myself down on a bench under a few trees in the center of the park. I had a great view of the completely overcast sky. It is such a strange immediate feeling of satisfaction when you look up at the sky. It was easy to imagine that if I were laying down in the grass staring up at it, I could get completely lost. Like my body filled with a cloud and floated up into the sky. But as the sky seemed to expand and contract with the height of the fog, I also felt a sense of enclosure and grounding - like I was in a snowglobe and the world was confined to a 10 block radius of the park. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting observations was the plateau of brightness at sunset. Instead of continuing into darkness, there was as transfer of light source from the sun to the buildings. The sky shifted from slate blue to a foggy artificial pink-yellow. Now I know why they call it light pollution. 

It was wonderful also gaining practice in sitting still outside. There is an anxiety that begins to arise, especially in public spots: what are these other people thinking about me? Do they think I'm strange for staring at the sky? What do I do now? Can I create a game for myself to entertain myself?

Rewilding Challenge Day 5

This challenge was barefooting - a subject near and dear to my heart. This day was busy and I was unable to fully complete the challenge by going barefoot in a "nature spot". However I did set out onto the streets of Manhattan barefoot once again. I took a detour from my normal, very short, route from apartment to school, and walked to a nearby coffee shop barefoot. It was refreshing to partake in this activity again. It was also still a new experience, considering it is now February and the other times I have gone barefoot outside were in summer/early Fall. The cold rough ground was unfamiliar to my feet and they became somewhat raw by the end of my short walk. But to me that is one of the exciting parts of barefooting. It's always a new experience, depending on the different textures of the street, the temperature, and presence of debris. Walking in shoes is a significantly more dull and uniform experience.

Rewilding Challenge Day 6

On this day there was a snow storm. I let myself stay inside the studio all day with the excuse that I wasn't sure if I could get back into the building if I left (security was strict that day because the school was technically closed). Also I wasn't really sure where to go. People often walk through the parks nearby as park of their commute. The only real solitude I could think of is tucked away in part of Central Park. But I've been trying to complete these challenges within Chelsea/Flatiron for time's sake and in attempt to celebrate smaller green spaces in the city. 

I did however, pay attention to the solitude I had throughout my day: in the morning work at home alone, in the afternoon when my classmates went out for lunch, in the evening prototyping in one of the classrooms by myself, each time I went to the bathroom, etc. As I am writing this reflection I am enjoying the solitude of a classroom on a rainy Sunday morning.

What concerns me about solitude is protection. I need to scout out locations for my experience design course. This entails going up to lesser populated parks in Queens by myself. Will I be in danger? Can I safely enjoy solitude in spaces like this or am I only able to do so behind locks doors like my apartment and the design studio? Why?

Rewilding Challenge Day 7

Wandering was the challenge for day 7. I also was unsuccessful in completing this one. It was an extremely busy day and it didn't let up until well after sunset. In NYC you can't really wander safely by yourself at night time. Or at least, as a woman, I do not feel safe doing this. Even had I had time - again, how would I have done this challenge in my area? Chelsea/Flatiron parks are small and open. There's not capability to wander and purposefully get lost. The streets are also all on a grid so you can't even get lost outside of the parks either. Again I'd have to go up to Central Park or downtown to the messy streets south of Soho. 

Rewilding Challenge Day 8

This challenge was about touch. Third day in a row that I didn't go outside to complete the challenge. I tried to hack it by touching lots of surfaces throughout my day in the studio. I started to get worried about illness and germs. I questioned whether or not it was a good idea for the health of myself and my fellow classmates. I had a similar question when I went outside at the end of the day. Considering touching the trees on the street on my way home, I wondered if it was safe for them. Would I hurt them in any way if I were to touch them? Are some trees more fragile or susceptible than others?

Then I started wondering about acquisition of this type of knowledge. My research emphasizes traditional knowledge over scientific study. Within the context of traditional knowledge, how does one know if touching a tree would injure it? How does that knowledge come to be and how does it get spread?

Jenna Witzleben