Jenna Witzleben
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MFA Thesis: Finding the Wild

Finding the Wild: A Visceral Approach to Sustainability

What does a rewilded world look like and how do we get there?


SVA MFA Products of Design

Spring 2017

Design Strategy, Design Research


For my year-long master’s thesis entitled Finding the Wild: A Visceral Approach to Sustainability, as part of the MFA Products of Design program at the School of Visual Arts, I explored an alternative future trajectory —“rewilding” — and how physical and emotional reconnection with our natural environments can inspire lifestyles of environmental stewardship.

I was primarily inspired by books such as How to Thrive in the Next Economy by John Thackara, The Once and Future World by J.B. MacKinnon, and Becoming Animal by David Abram, which discuss the “metabolic rift”, the need for humans to physically interact with our environments, and the subject of rewilding. Conversations with individuals like Peter Michael Bauer, founder of Rewild Portland, as well as immersive experiments such as barefooting, supplemented my understanding of the human, social, and spiritual aspects of rewilding.

Rewilding has many definitions, but involves increasing biodiversity, building relationships of reciprocity, and drawing inspiration from hunter-gatherer and indigenous cultures to imagine future societal structures outside of civilization. It spans individual to global scales and touches on topics ranging from architecture to food production to primal fitness. Through my research, I also discovered that there’s a common misconception that rewilding is about wilderness survival. It’s not. Rewilding means a life of thriving; of living in a way that is harmonious with our inherent desires and behaviors as human animals.”

What helped to anchor the work was the goal of specifically prompting conspicuous behavior change in early adopters of rewilding, such as environmental scientists, sustainability professionals, and outdoor adventurers, so that they can act as hubs of rewilding and thus spread the movement. This body of work serves as gateways into rewilding and first steps towards breaking down the barriers between humans and our surrounding environment.

In addition to presenting the work at the SVA Theater in Chelsea (video above), the full project descriptions and process information are documented in my thesis book, below.

To view the project produced as part of this thesis, please see the Drenchcoat, Urban Citizen Forest Protection, Panacea, Barely, or the Thesis Sprints.