an image of desiree

Desiree Foerster

Assistant Professor at the Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University

My research revolves around the study of embodied aesthetics and environmental media. As part of my research, I explore ways to incorporate additional sensory modalities into the current aesthetic frameworks, such as thermoception, interoception, chemoception, to access and describe the thereby enabled aesthetic experience. Taking on the perspective of process philosophy and media-aesthetics, I investigate the role that pre-reflective experience plays in situating the human subject apart from a conscious reference to the world. My PhD thesis "Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes" asks questions such as: in how far can an aesthetic framework inspired by pragmatism, process philosophy, and biological concepts such as metabolism provide new understandings to the human-environment relation? Recently, I started working on a book about new phenomenologies of pain, disease, and wellbeing enabled by digital technologies. I will explore aesthetic interventions into normative conceptions of human bodies and in how far they move beyond promises of empathy.

I am an Assistant Professor at the department of Media and Culture Studies in the cluster Media, Arts & Performance at Utrecht University. Previously, from 2020-2022, I was a Postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. Prior to that, I graduated with a PhD from the University of Potsdam, where I was advised by Birgit Schneider (Potsdam) and Sha Xin Wei (Arizona State University). I have summarized some key points from my dissertation on this webpage. Before, I graduated with an MA in Media Studies at the University of Düsseldorf and a BA in Philosophy/Literature at the Ruhr University Bochum. I typically present my work at conferences such as the annual conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts and the annual meeting of the Social Studies of Science (4S). I have lectured workshops on Foucault's “heteropia” at the Utopia School in Copenhagen'15 and in Athens'16. In 2017, I was awarded the Emergent Scholar Award of the New Directions in the Humanities Research Network. Also, I worked as a program assistant for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW in Berlin) and as a curator in Berlin.

Research interests

Aesthetics, Media Ecologies, Affective Media, Embodiment, Phenomenology, Embodied Cognition, Enactivism, Process Philosophy, Immersive Environments.

CV (pdf)


Liminal Experience in Virtual Reality (VR experiment)

in collaboration with Tallon Hodge & Desiree Valdez.


Liminal Experience in Virtual Reality is a multi-disciplinary study that uses virtual reality (VR) as a platform to explore the experience of indeterminacy. We used the interview technique micro-phenomenology to explore the unfolding experience of navigating virtual environments that were designed to confuse the participants of the study and to confront them with situations that do not make sense on the first encounter. This project was realized in collaboration with undergraduate students (Tallon and Desiree) and experiments were conducted at the University of Chicago's Media Arts, Data, and Design Center.


Give&Take (VR experiment)

in collaboration with Sarah Hermanutz & Andreas Rau (supported by IXDM Basel).


How can we use unseen sensual experiences, such as interoception, to improve our understanding of the relationship between a human body and its atmospheric surroundings? How can we create immersive environments that induce meaningful perceptual experiences for thermal, climatic, and meteorological processes? To engage with these questions, I created an interative experiment together with designers and artists from Berlin and Basel. This is an interactive VR simulation that utilizes thermal feedback and sensing technologies. The project was the starting point for a multi-media installation at IXDM. The immersive environment induced a perceptional link with thermal, climatic, and meteorological processes that were enacted in partial response to the engaging individual. I am especially interested in exploring VR technology to shift our conscious awareness toward processes in our surroundings that we are usually unaware of.


Affective Atmospheres (installation)

in collaboration with Synthesis Center (Arizona State University) and Topological Media Lab (Concordia University)


A collaboration with colleagues at the Topological Media Lab (Concordia University) and the Synthesis Center(Schools of Arts, Media + Engineering at Arizona State University) that resulted in “Caustic Scenography + Responsive Cloud Formations”. This is a synthetic cloud generator, built to investigate the potential that lies in the experience of atmospheric conditions. This project reflects on contemporary environmental challenges and possibilities. In this collaboration, we explicitly tie together philosophical inquiry and experimental practice to maximize the potential of both fields without returning to ready-made and limiting concepts and questions. During a second workshop we build another prototype that was also exhibited at the Leonardo Laser event "LASER 6: Ecologies X Voice X Body X Atmosphere". See more at: Experiential Model of Atmosphere (project page).


PhD dissertation

Thesis: Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes (Jan 2020)


I have summarized some key points from my dissertation in this webpage


With my PhD thesis “Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes” I explore how aesthetic theory can be extended to account for bio-chemical processes. The concept of an “aesthetics of metabolism” makes it possible to explore how bio-chemical processes, such as energy production in respiration, impact our subjective experience. What is thereby subjectively experienced is not so much a concrete feeling, thought, or invitation to act, but rather how feelings, thoughts, and behavior arise in different phases of experience, sometimes leading to one another. An aesthetics of metabolism enables to become aware of different phases in experience and how they relate to each other as well as to processes that happen outside of the experiencing subject’s body, in the immediate surrounding. Thereby, I propose, an aesthetics of metabolism offers a new perspective on the human-environment relation, one that is processual, relational, and not dependent on a conscious reference to the environment. Ultimately, an aesthetics of metabolism highlights that meaning-making is not only reserved for conscious thought but happens on a pre-reflective layer as well. (buy book)


Aesthetic Encounters with the More-Than-Human. (buy book)

In Climate, Science, and Society: A Primer. Edited by Mark Vardy et al. Routledge.

New Phenomenologies of Pain and the Re-Conceptualization of Health in the Digital Arts. (read article, open access)

In: The Senses and Society (2023).

Experimental Environments and the aesthetic experience of Metabolic Processes (together with Iain Campbell). (read article)

In: Leonardo Volume 56, Issue 2 (2023).

Atmospheric Sensing: On the Aesthetic of Interrelations with Environments. (read article, open access)

In: Venti Journal, 2022

Re-reading Whitehead Through the Pre‑reflective Experience of Atmospheric Processes. (read article, open access)

In: Ambiances, International Journal of Sensory Environment, Architecture and Urban Space, 2021.

Awareness for Atmospheres. (read article, open access)

In: Excursions Journal, Vol. 11 No. 1 (2021): (Re)Connect.

Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes. (buy book)

Meson Press, 2021.

Figurations of Hybrid Ecologies in Artistic Practice (buy book)

In: Dialogues Between Artistic Research and Science and Technology Studies. Edited by Henk Borgdorff, Peter Peters, Trevor Pinch, Routledge, 2019.

Being Interspecies. Negotiation Processes of Subjectivity and Event Beyond Representation (buy book)

In: Andreas Greiner: Anatomy of a Fairytale. Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2016.

Bioart – Vom Laborprojekt zum sozialen Subjekt (in German, buy book)

In: Wissen und Leben – Wissen für das Leben. Hg. v. Vittoria Borsò, Michele Cometa, Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2014.

Die Immersion des Bildes. Notizen zum VJing als eine hybride Bildpraxis (in German, buy book)

In: Im Kontinuum der Bilder. VJing als Medienkunst. Hg.v. Prof. Dr. R. Görling, D. Förster, A. Olbrisch, L. Handel, Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 2011.


  • 2020-2022

    Postdoc at the Department for Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago.

  • 2017-2020

    PhD, Institute for Arts and Media (Philosophy), Potsdam, Germany

    Thesis: Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes (Jan 2020). Advised by Birgit Schneider (Potsdam) and Sha Xin Wei (Arizona State University).

  • Nov 2018

    Research residency at Topological Media Lab, Concordia University, Canada.

    with Sha Xin Wei. (1.5 months)

  • Feb 2018

    Research residency at Synthesis Center, Arizona State University, USA.

    with Sha Xin Wei. (2 months)

  • Aug 2017

    Visiting scholar at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA.

    at the Department of Social Studies of Science (3 months)

  • 2013-2016

    Program Asisstant at Literature & Humanities at the Haus Der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

    Main projects: Anthropocene (2 year project) and Technosphere (4 year project).

  • 2007-2009

    MA (Master of Arts) at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany.

    Master Thesis: "BioArt. On the motif of hybrid forms of life in art in the age of biotechnologies" (in German) with Timo Skrandies

  • 2003-2006

    BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Comparative Studies and Philosophy at the Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany.

    Bachelor Thesis: "The surrealist portrayal of everyday life in Svankmajer and Magritte" (in German).

Talks (conferences, invited, podcasts)

  • Extending Sensibilities. On the Aesthetic Experience of Metabolic Processes..

    Interaction Design Education Summit, Zurich University of the arts, moderated panel “Metabolic Perspectives in Design”, February 2023.

  • Podcast Interview (in German, listen)

    Manifestos for Design, 2021, a podcast by the Department of Design at the Zurich University of the Arts.

  • Liminal experience of atmospheric processes.

    Aesthetics in the Age of Environmental Crises, Lahti (FI), June, 2021.

  • Developing New Habits of Care in Sentient Environments.

    Uncommon Senses III: The Future of the Senses. Center for Sensory Studies, Concordia University, Montreal (CA), May, 2021.

  • Experimental environments and the aesthetic experience of metabolic processes. (click for video of talk).

Indeterminate Futures / The Future of Indeterminacy, Dundee (UK), November, 2020.

  • Experimental environments and the aesthetic experience of metabolic processes.

    Philosophy of Human Technology Relation, Twente (NL), November, 2020.

  • Aesthetic Experience of Atmospheres.

    ECODATA. The 5th Open Fields conference on Artistic Research, Science and Technologies and RIXC Art Science Festival, Litauen (LT), October, 2020.

  • Expanding Sensitivity in Immersive Media Environments

    ISEA, Montreal (CA), October, 2020.

  • Is sharing caring? Enacting novel relationships with nonhuman worlds in the arts (click for video of talk).

    Keynote for Commiserate Festival, Chicago (US), March, 2020.

  • Breathing with Others. The New Aesthetics of Air in Art and Architecture.

    Experimental Engagements. SLSA 2019. UCI Irvine (US), Nov. 2019.

  • Affective Atmospheres | Ambient Feedback Ecology.

    ISEA2019, Gwangju, South Korea (SK), 2019.

  • Affective Atmospheres.

    LASER 6: Ecologies X Voice X Body X Atmosphere. Hexagram, Concordia University, Montreal (CA), Nov. 2018.

  • Hybrid Art. On performative materialities and mediality of encorporation

    Keynote for Stories for a more-than-human world 06/07/2018, Berlin, Germany.

  • Attuning the Body, Stretching the Feeling. A Coliseum for the Senses

    Second Annual Posthuman Network (PHuN) Graduate Student Conference 2/22-25/2018, Tempe, Arizona, US.

  • Environments of Shared Concern

    Nonhuman Subjectivities 11/24/2017, Berlin, Germany.

  • Presentation: Hybrid ecologies, affective atmospheres and metabolic systems in art and design

    Challenging Corporealities 11/9 – 11/10 2007, Barcelona, Spain.

  • Hybrid Ecologies, Affective Atmospheres and Metabolic Systems in Art and Design

    Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 8/30- 9/3 2017, Boston, Massachusetts, US

  • The Cognitive Shift: Ecological Figurations of the Human in Art and Design

    Fifteenth International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities (Special Focus: New Directions of the Humanities in a Knowledge Society), 7/5–7/7 2017, London, UK

  • Affective Atmospheres and Hybrid Ecologies

    The SLSAeu Conference 2017 “Empathies”, 7/21-7/24 2017, Basel, Switzerland.

  • Negotiations of instability of life itself in technologies of interoception: the interface as epistemic object

    Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 8/31-9/3 2016, Barcelona, Spain.

  • Beyond human senses – technologies of new interspecies-entanglements

    SCOS 2016 – The Animal, 7/11-7/14 2016, Uppsala University, Sweden.

  • The monster lies in between. On the motif of the precarious in artistic practices

    Promises of Monsters, 4/28-4/29 2016 University of Stavanger.

  • Contamination, Abstraction, Interoception – New Artistic Strategies Challenging The Human Condition

    Strata: Art and Science Collaborations in the Anthropocene, 1/15 2016, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK

  • Arts in Collaboration: New Artistic Practices with a New Ecoaestetic

    Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 11/11-11/14 2015, Denver, US.

  • BioArt. Über die Möglichkeit nichtmenschlicher Perspektiven in der Kunst (German)

    Evolution in Menschenhand? Synthetische Biologie aus Labor und Atelier, 3/13 2015, organized by Schering Foundation, the National Academy oft he Sciences Leopoldina and the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Academy of the Sciences.

  • Arts in Collaboration

    Ninth International Conference on the Arts in Society “The Lives of Art”, 6/25-6/27 2014 Rome, Italy.

  • Under the surface, under the skin.

    Man, Meat, and Method ,6/5-6/6 2013, Bergen, Norway.

  • Interspecies Relationships

    Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 10/17 – 10/20 2012, Kopenhagen, Denmark.

  • VJing jenseits der Clubkultur. Konzeptionierung urbaner und kommerzieller Räume (in German)

    11/23 2010, University Siegen, Germany.

  • Bioart – Vom Laborprojekt zum sozialen Subjekt (in German)

    International Graduate Conference „Biopolitik, Bioökonomie und Biopoetik im Zeichen der Krisis“ , 1/20-1/23 2010 Heinrich-Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany.


University-level teaching

  • Philosophy of Science (Undergraduate, 2023)

    Course taught by Desiree Foerster at Utrecht University.

  • Green Media (Undergraduate, 2023)

    Course taught by Desiree Foerster at Utrecht University.

  • Urban Interfaces (Graduate, 2022-2023)

    Course taught by Desiree Foerster with Dr. Michiel de Lange at Utrecht University.

  • Urban Mobile Media: The myth and messiness of connectivity (Graduate, 2022-2023)

    Course taught by Desiree Foerster with Dr. Michiel de Lange at Utrecht University.

  • Introduction to new media and digital culture (Undergraduate, 2023)

    Course taught by Desiree Foerster at Utrecht University

  • Experimental Futures: Speculative Research in the Context of Ecological Crisis (Undergraduate, 2021-2022; CMST 27522)

    Course taught & designed by Desiree Foerster at the University of Chicago.

  • Aesthetics of Engagement (Undergraduate/Graduate, 2018)

    Course taught & designed by Desiree Foerster at the University of Potsdam.

  • De-constructing Clouds (Undergraduate, 2017)

    Course co-taught & co-designed by Desiree Foerster together with Myriel Milicevic at the University Potsdam and FH Potsdam (Design Department).

  • Re-figuring the animal. The animal in Catherine Chalmers and Allison Hunter (Undergraduate/Graduate, 2013)

    Course taught & designed by Desiree Foerster at the University of Düsseldorf.

Workshops lectured

  • Atmospheres as a Medium of Design (2023)

    The Critical Inquiry Lab, at the Design Academy in Eindhoven.

  • On Foucault's Heteropia (2016)

    Independent Event Space in Athens.

  • On Foucault's Heteropia (2015)

    at the Utopia School Copenhagen

Pedagogy Training

  • Teaching certificate from University of Potsdam (2018-2019)

    Junior Teaching Professionals, intensive workshop based certification in Pedagogy.

Chairing & Organizing

Conference organization

  • Sensing Technologies (Spürtechniken) a three-day conference at the University Potsdam (5/24-5/26, 2018)

    co-organizing with Birgit Schneider.

  • Technosphere (at Haus der Kulturen der Welt)

    as program assistant at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

  • Conducting the amplified body - a matinee of electrically [de]controlled musicians

    A week-long research residency, which culminated with public talks & performances by Michaela Davies (artist), Ian Douglas-Moore (guitarist), Jonathan Heilbron (double bassist), Robert Lindenberg (neuroscientist), Pedro Lopes (researcher & turntablist), ACUD Macht Neu, Berlin.

  • Anthropocene (2 year project at Haus der Kulturen der Welt)

    as program assistant at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

Session Chair & Moderator

Curator & Project Manager

Summer Schools / Residencies

  • Short residency “Atmosphere”

    Topological Media Lab 10/25-11.30.18, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

  • Lurid Space. Ecology Beyond Organisms

    PhD Course in Art History, University of Oslo, 2/1/2018, Oslo, Norway

  • Short residency “Atmosphere”

    Synthesis Center School of Arts, Media and Engineering; Arizona State University, 2/14-3/3 2018, Tempe, US.

  • Research residency at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

    8/1 – 10/30 2017, Troy, NY, US.

  • Trainee in COST: New Materialism Training School: Research Genealogies and Material Practices

    5/27-5/29 2016, TATE Modern, London, UK.

  • Summer School “Sensing Collectivities” and the “Thermal Objects workshop”

    7/14 – 7/18 2017, Hamburg University, Hamburg, Germany.

  • Utrecht University
  • Department of Media and Culture Studies
  • Muntstraat 2A (room 0.04)
  • 3512 EV Utrecht