[ISEA2020] Paper: Desiree Förster — Expanding Sensitivity in Immersive Media Environments

Abstract (short paper)

Keywords: Aesthetics, Embodiment, Immersive Environments, Media Ecologies, Virtual Reality, Phenomenology

This paper proposes a shift in aesthetics that can account for the bio-chemical dimension of subjective experience. We argue that this shift allows to become more sensitive to how we experience, instead of focusing on just what we feel. To achieve this, we focus on media environments that manipulate temperature, air flow, or oxygen levels in the air, in order to affect human subjects in a bodily as well as emotionally-affective manner. We argue that media environments that intensify climatic processes so that they can be sensed, potentially change what we consider to be important in our environment and what we include in our consideration of future actions. To explore this shift, we will take an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment that we have created to flesh out the characteristics of such an embodied aesthetics. The VR environment represents a natural surrounding in which the participants’ respiration impacts the growth of virtual plants. Over the course of five minutes the participants experience the correlation of their own metabolic processes, the photosynthesis of the plants, and the rising temperature in the surrounding with different sense modalities. Based on observations of emotional and behavioral responses to relations mediated by the environment, we propose that an aesthetics of metabolism allows us to become more sensitive towards our own bodily involvement with the world and towards other sentient beings we are sharing the world with. Lastly, we believe the media environment presented here illustrates how a practical aesthetics and prototyping can help developing new forms of knowledge in the humanities and provide best practice examples for interdisciplinary research.

  • Desiree Foerster holds a PhD from the Institute for Arts and Media, University of Potsdam, Germany. She graduated in Philosophy, Literature (BA) and Media-Culture-Analysis (MA). Currently she is a visiting student at the department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, USA, where she will start a PostDoc in Spring this year. Her interest lies in the exploration of aesthetic milieus that incorporate additional sensory modalities, such as thermoception, interoception, chemoception into the current aestetic framework. Taking on the perspective of process philosophy and media-aesthetics, she investigates the role that pre-reflective experiences play in situating the human subject apart from a conscious reference to the world. Her PhD thesis asks questions such as: in how far can an aesthetic framework inspired by new pragmatism, process philosophy, and biological concepts such as metabolism provide new understandings to the emergence of subjectivity?