Jorge La Ferla & Mariel Szlifman: Audiovisual Design with obstacles

In the framework of our course “Diseño Audiovisual” (by professors La Ferla/Szlifman) which we teach in the Graphic Design Studies (FADU, Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo, UBA, University of Buenos Aires), we propose to our students as a final project to develop a work framed in the “Artists’ Book” genre. We consider the conception of audiovisual media from an artistic and experimental point of view. A praxis that combines editorial design with media – through photography, video, and locative and/or interactive mobile devices – which usually comprises the piece of installation art’s device.

The proposition is based on a series of guidelines which develop throughout weekly pre-deliveries in an intense month of work in which students must think about how to overcome a series of obstacles, of an expressive, narrative, auto-representative nature. It is the urban space setting and its context which are represented through various media machineries. It is about devising a narrative which resembles the genres of essay and self-portrait, as a staging of the self. This way, the work is positioned as a praxis of design which takes shape through a series of predicaments. It is not about designing for others, and neither is it a functional design or a design which resolves a communication problem for third parties. It is a meta-referential design which is presented as a personal atlas. That is to say, a way of regarding the relationships between practice, theory, and thought through a conceptual framework which brings together art, design, and a narrative of the self, as a form of essay.

As examples of this practice, there are projects which we have been promoting in the course throughout these years. We can cite two recent works which have stood out for surpassing the posed obstacles. We will start with the case of “Heterotopías urbanas” by Augusto Daniele (2016), tutored by professor Carolina Naranjo Rojo. A work which challenges the original notion of Baudelaire’s Parisian flâneur of the 19th century. In this first decade of the 21st century, the urban stroller is faced with new environments and means of communication which operate as extensions of the human body.

Daniele’s work (figures 1 and 2) proposes a corporal and mobile mapping of the city of Buenos Aires. His proposition is to establish a relationship between the idea of inhabiting the imaginary and the urban vestiges, and the metadata emerging from these journeys, which functions as design information. Thus, the work explores the frontiers of the analog and the digital, the relationships between the body, the urban fabric, and the technological mediation through the use of a mobile phone as a locative mean.

(Fig. 1) “Heterotopías urbanas” by Augusto Daniele (2016).  Photo © La Ferla & Szlifman.
(Fig. 2) “Heterotopías urbanas” by Augusto Daniele (2016).  Photo © La Ferla & Szlifman.

In turn, the work “Conocer, registrar, recordar” by Daniela Potente (2017) is a self-portrait which was developed with professor Nicole Edward. This project was presented in the form of a textual and photographic essay. It is through the design of an artists’ book that different objects are spread out in space (figure 3 and 4). In this case, records and personal history are the “obstacles” and the drive which allows the design of a new narrative. The act of traversing the urban landscape through a camera to find the traces of a relative who is no longer there, which is continued in a complex post-production. It is about assembling these new images through the dismantling of the preexisting records. The flashbacks of the others of the past are redefined through the personal experience of revisiting those spaces, thus constructing a new object of art and design. This implies representing oneself as a figure in an almost existential introspective, something which is usually complex in the field of design.

(Fig. 3) “Conocer, registrar, recordar” by Daniela Potente (2017).  Photo © La Ferla & Szlifman.
(Fig. 4) “Conocer, registrar, recordar” by Daniela Potente (2017).  Photo © La Ferla & Szlifman.

The series of established pre-deliveries is accompanied by the corresponding commented and discussed feedback and culminates with a final delivery. It is in this instance where the montage is devised in the workshop-classroom. The exhibition starts with a brief pitch which presents the project. This introductory brief speech is succinct because the true story has been developed throughout the lectures and reviews. It is in this instance that the different guidelines which gradually gave shape to the work were developed. Part of these difficulties were defining the conceptual framework, by interpreting the theoretical material; the journey chosen based on zones, topics, or territories; and the audiovisual machineries used, taking into consideration their technical characteristics. It is a requirement, another obstacle, to consider how the resulting design object must communicate with the case report as a coherent, formal, and narrative expressive structure.

We believe that design is defined and takes shape when students are forced to consider the concept and concretion of each part of their work in progress. Among these are: concept as a tool, the relationship between container and content, the fundamental and its “expographic” format, the visual language, the material strategies, and the graphic resources. If, implicitly, the design uses obstacles, it is necessary to consider them from a perspective in which the design encompasses the audiovisual aspect significantly. That is to say that the audiovisual aspect becomes a design predicament. Specifying these obstacles in the form of methodological instructions or thought guidelines would bring us closer to a logic in which the artists’ book is not just a book meant for reading, but a space in which the design implies walking in the shoes of the author; where the audiovisual aspect is combined with editorial graphic design; in which the final resulting object does not fulfill any functional purpose. It is thus that this hybrid process culminates, once all obstacles have been overcome, in a piece of art and design.

Jorge La Ferla – Professor Chief of Chair, University of Buenos Aires and University of Cinema. Researcher and Curator on Media Arts; Vídeo, Cinema, Multimedia, Installations.

Mariel Szlifman – Graphic Designer specialised in Communicational Design (FADU, UBA). Professor at La Ferla Chair, University of Buenos Aires. Research project manager in “Audiovisual design praxis. Ways of looking at the media (and) urban landscape” (FADU).