Laurel Schwulst

Laurel Schwulst
A portrait photo of me, Laurel Schwulst — I’m a white woman in my early 30s with medium length brown hair, and in this picture I’m wearing an apron and smiling in front of corn because I’m about to cook “summer corn soup” for my friends in Osaka Japan as part of my art residency at “pe hu,” a creative community space there. This photo was taken by Ayami Konishi, one of its members.
Laurel Schwulst at pe.hu community arts space in Osaka, Japan (2019)
Born March 15, 1988
Normal, IL, United States
Occupations Artist, Designer, Educator, Writer, Programmer
Location New York, NY, United States
Website laurelschwulst.com
(You are here!)

Laurel Schwulst (born 1988) is an American artist, educator, and writer. Schwulst is recognized for her internet art, her interactive design work, her websites, her writing about the internet[1], and her innovative teaching methods.[2]

Early life and education

Schwulst was born in Normal, Illinois. As a child, she became interested in “animals, art, and computers.” Her first formative experiences online, which lead to creating her first websites, were activated by Pastel Club — a private Yahoo! Group that discussed the customization of model horses with novel techniques.[3]

Schwulst graduated from RISD in 2010.[4]

Career

Websites, Process, Identity

Following school, Schwulst worked as designer and front-end programmer at Linked by Air, a design and technology studio in New York.[5] Schwulst's approach to web design is rooted in the studio's tenet that a website should change and grow over time.[6] At Linked by Air, she designed websites for Printed Matter and the Yale AIDS Memorial Project.

In 2016, Yancey Strickler and Brandon Stosuy hired Schwulst as creative director of The Creative Independent, a web-based arts publication run by Kickstarter, PBC, which is dedicated to being a resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people. At The Creative Independent, Schwulst invented the publication’s spiral identity, which speaks to any artist’s tendency to circle back to a core idea over time.[7] Schwulst cites The Artists Way, a self-help book by Julia Cameron, who speaks of this spiral path:

Schwulst's pxelated spiral logo for The Creative Independent
You will circle through some of the issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb.

Like an artist itself, the website of The Creative Independent thecreativeindependent.com, also designed by Schwulst, had its own unique rituals and patterns. For example, in its early days, the website “turned off” for the duration of the weekend. This relates to Schwulst’s belief that institutions should not attempt to be monolithic, but rather embrace their own subjectivity and the changeable nature of the web to show that they are opinionated yet flexible like a living thing. Schwulst writes, “Authored and dynamic designs foreground (the institution’s) role as a producer of art and culture, not just a frozen frame for it.”[8]

Collaborations and World-Building

Since 2017, Schwulst has been working independently with various collaborators. She created web identities for gallery T Space Rhinebeck (begun by architect Steven Holl), artist Sara Cwynar, and historic New York City-based arts institution Artists Space.

Schwulst's animated horse favicon (day mode) for Artists Space

Launched in late 2019, the new artistsspace.org features a day and night mode, an animated horse favicon artwork by Schwulst, and exposed image descriptions or alt-text underneath each image and video. Most prominently, the website sports “multiple entrances,” similar to Artists Space’s new physical building that has two separate entrances (11 Cortlandt Alley and 80 White Street). Artists Space’s virtual multiple entrances are subdomains (images, texts, videos, artists) which aim to make the website’s content more accessible by allowing generous, ambient traversal through the institution’s rich archive. The website was programmed by Taichi Aritomo and Mark Beasley.[9]

Schwulst is interested in world-building. This is one reason she likes the medium of websites, as they “allow the author to create not only works (the ‘objects’) but also the world (the rooms, the arrangement of rooms, the architecture!). Ideally, the two would inform each other in a virtuous, self-perfecting loop.” She explored possible spatial metaphors for personal websites in her essay on The Creative Independent, “My website is a house next to a river of knowledge. What could yours be?” which is frequently cited by designers, technologists, and educators around the world.[10] [11]

Schwulst frequently collaborates with and studies other artists.

Front and back cover of Perfume Area, a book of fragrance reviews by Laurel Schwulst and Sydney Shen, published in 2015 by Ambient Works.

Since 2013, Schwulst has collaborated with artist Sydney Shen on a perfume review project called Perfume Area. Each review is a “prose pocket world,” lyrical and written in second person, like a tour through an imagined landscape.[12] In 2015, Schwulst and Shen adapted the reviews posted on its website into a book published by Ambient Works (New York) and designed by Bryce Wilner. The book features a pull-out map which plots every place recalled throughout the fragrance reviews. Critic Lucy Chinen reflects, “This additional (map) element made me think about how fragrances can be understood spatially. Where exactly is perfume area anyway, is it inhabitable and how can we get there?”[13]

Screenshots from Flight Simulator — “an ode to airplane mode” — a travel app for iOS and Android created by Laurel Schwulst with algorithmic artwork by Aarati Akkapeddi, published in 2019 by Soft Works.

On February 19, 2019, Schwulst released an ambient travel app called Flight Simulator, published by Soft Works (a small software company run by Dan Brewster). The app is described as “an ode to airplane mode.” Users put their phone in airplane mode for the duration of a real flight in order to “travel” to this location and earn pins for each airport visited. There are 495 unique pins (one for each airport), which are algorithmic artwork created for the app by artist Aarati Akkapeddi.[14] In 2020, the app has been reported useful and fun amidst quarantine at home during the pandemic.[15]

On January 1, 2020, with designers Laura Coombs and Mindy Seu, Schwulst announced their strategic consultancy and research alliance, CSS. On March 1, 2020, they adopted ⋱, a cascading Unicode character.[16]

Schwulst frequently interviews other artists, designers, and educators. She began this practice while working at The Creative Independent [17] and continued it on the Are.na Blog and Fruitful School’s Blog. In 2019, with artist Elliott Cost, she began recording interviews with website creators for their podcast HTML Energy. Schwulst enjoys observing artists over time through their self-published websites, as exemplified by her Art in America profile on Korean graphic designers Sulki & Min, who are “diligent and discerning archivists of their own work.”[18] Schwulst is particularly interested in designers who take agency in their presentation, resisting that their clients be the primary distributors of their works. In her interview with designer, CEO, and editor Min Guhong, Guhong states that his company “focuses, more than anything, on presenting itself in various forms.”[19]

Cybernetic Public Works

Most recently, Schwulst is focusing on designing physical environments inspired by her interactive design work.

Mockup of the “Idea Seeds” project, created by Laurel Schwulst & Michael Savona.

In 2017, with designer Michael Savona she co-developed the project “Idea Seeds,” in which user-generated text responses envisioned as botanical garden signs. Ideas are gathered both on and offline, engraved, and installed perennially as “Idea Gardens” in various locations. The project is still in development.

In 2019, she adapted her Flight Simulator app into an exhibition as a rent-able Airbnb apartment, complete with laminated recommendation guide, as part of an artist residency at pe hu in Osaka, Japan.[20] She also designed the first physical exhibition for the online left gallery at Stroom Den Haag, an art center in the Netherlands.[21] (left gallery is an online platform created by artist Harm van den Dorpel and designed by Schwulst that produces and sells work of art as editioned, downloadable virtual objects.)

Teaching

Schwulst began teaching at Yale School of Art in 2013.[4]

Schwulst has an inventive approach to pedagogy. Her courses and exercises, such as her Coding from Life workshop, are frequently reproduced and cited.[22] At Yale, she also created and developed syllabi for entirely new classes, including “Interactive Concrete Poetry” and “Writing as Metadata”.[23]

In 2018, Schwulst was awarded an Inspiring Yale award for her work as a designer and teacher.[2] In 2020, she published an ephemeral online anthology with her interactive design class at Yale called The Life and Death of an Internet Onion, which features writing from her students exploring the possibility of love online. The project was edited by Meg Miller and co-published by Are.na. Schwulst considers it an “oral history of the internet.”[24]

Schwulst has been a long-time user and advocate of Are.na, a social researching tool popular among creative and academic people. She encourages students to build their own knowledge networks with Are.na, enabling them to “recognize patterns in their own thinking by revisiting things they’ve accumulated over time,” as Charles Broskoski, Are.na’s co-founder, described to Schwulst in an interview.[25] By using outside tools like Are.na and inviting guests into her class, Schwulst considers her classes “workshops in conversation with the world.”[24] On the Are.na platform, Schwulst’s popular research collections include Eggs in Art and Design, Sparrows talking about the future of the web, and Wild Animals vs. Manmade Materials. Five years after the latter’s creation, Schwulst explained how other Are.na users’ erroneous contributions to her collection and her subsequent policing of them actually helped cultivate her specific research.[26]

In 2020, Schwulst co-founded Fruitful School with designer and programmer John Provencher. Fruitful School is an independent web workshop that explores publishing to the web as an artistic practice, encouraging students to gradually grow their ideas as they learn new tools, methodologies, and histories. Fruitful School had its first six-week-long workshop in Brooklyn, NY in Winter 2020 and is going virtual for its Fall 2020 session.

In addition to Yale and Fruitful School, Schwulst has also taught design courses at Princeton, California College of the Arts, Rutgers, and has given lectures and workshops internationally.

Notable Works

This section is currently in progress. Please check back soon!

Selected Projects

Title Website About Collaborator
Flight Simulator flightsimulator.soft.works
Flight Simulator, “ode to airplane mode,” is a novel travel application for smartphone, published by Soft in 2019. It includes algorithmic artwork by Aarati Akkapeddi. with Dan Brewster (Soft)
Perfume Area perfume-area.com Perfume Area is a lyrical fragrance review project. Its book, contemplating 36 fragrances, was published in 2015 by Ambient Works. with Sydney Shen
Fruitful School fruitful.school Fruitful School is a web workshop that nurtures seeds into published websites. with John Provencher
HTML Energy html.energy HTML Energy is a podcast about the raw power of HyperText Markup Language. with Elliott Cost
Artist Space’s website artistsspace.org Schwulst designed the new website for Artists Space, a historic New York City based arts institution, from 2017–19. The site was programmed by Taichi Aritomo and Mark Beasley.
TCI’s website thecreativeindependent.com Schwulst was the inaugural creative director from 2016–17 of The Creative Independent, a growing archive of the creative process, run by Kickstarter, PBC.
Very Interactive veryinteractive.net Schwulst's interactive design teaching archive.
Beautiful Company beautiful-company.com Schwulst's design practice archive, 2009–2020.

Selected Writing

Title Published Date Keywords
Onion and Rocks Are.na Blog 2020 internet, oral histories, personal writing, anthologies, webzines, dream
10 Colors for the Next Decade Rhizome 2020 color, websites, memory
The cuteness of white noise Buffy 2019 white noise, cuteness, ambiance, sleep, womb
My website is a shifting house next to a river of knowledge. What could yours be? The Creative Independent 2018 personal websites, metaphor, artists, world-building, world wide web, education
(+.+) & <*_*>: The Evolving Designs of Sulki & Min Art in America 2017 Sulki & Min, Korean graphic designers, profile
Wildness Knows the Score Are.na Blog 2017 wild animals, manmade materials, pets, internet, curation, maintainance, user contributions, Are.na channel
Personal Voice Art in America 2016 The Wattis Institute, website, institution, seasonal, moods
Spiral The Creative Independent 2016 identity, spiral, process, path, snail
Pastel Club When all of my friends are on at once 2013 early internet, memory, horses, model horses, hobby, 90s

References

About this page

Hi, thanks for visiting my website. You might notice it looks like a Wikipedia page. That’s because earlier this year, some of my friends made me a Wikipedia page for my birthday, and after many edits and back-and-forths, it’s been deleted. With this site, I hoped to preserve but ultimately extend that page originally made by my friends. I thought a Wikipedia page, known for being a legible, accessible, co-authored document, made sense for my work, which is often disparate and collaborative. (That is, often I work behind the scenes, make work on various URLs and platforms, and do it with many people.) So through my own Wikipedia page, I wish to reveal a few long threads through all my work. Special thanks to Rosa McElheny, Elliott Cost, Meg Miller, Laura Coombs, Mindy Seu, Toby Shorin, and Will Dintenfass for their contributions to this page.

Last updated: October 20, 2020