Flying Over Water | 1997

Peter Greenaway's exhibition, 'Flying over Water', staged at the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona was an extraordinary spectacle. A recreation of the Greek myth of Icarus 'the first pilot, the first flyer, the first air disaster' was the starting point for a set of 30 installations demonstrating the poetic and restless mind of multimedia artist Peter Greenaway best known for his cinematic output ('The Draughsman's Contract'; 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover'; etc.). A rare opportunity to design coordinated catalogue and exhibition graphics and publicity material. Reflecting the organisation of the exhibition, the publication was divided into 30 sections each in two languages, English and Catalan, given equal status.

Published by Merrell Holberton
ISBN 1-85894-033-8

See also '100 Objects to Represent the World'


When the Client is an Artist
Extract from an article in 'Print' magazine
By Liz Farrelly

Graphic Designers and visual artists can be uneasy collaborators on book projects. But the results can be extraordinary

"Peter wanted to do a print project, was interested in integrating graphics into film, and saw the possibilities of typography," explains Coates. "He's open to fooling around with text and to someone adding a layer of commentary to what he's doing." Greenaway recalls that, "Stephen instantly comprehended and developed the ideas at stake - primacy of text versus image, the image as text, the text as image."

"Peter is a cataloguer who orders information and tries to make sense of the world. The form of the exhibitions sets the structure of the books, [30 numbered and themed installations for 'Flying Over Water'; 100 numbered objects for '100 Objects to Represent the World'] so they offer a way of understanding how he thinks," explains Coates. After an initial presentation of a cover and treatment, Greenaway provided various pieces of text and a generous assortment of imagery. "The man is a walking stock library and provided images from fine art, his own paintings, film stills and installation shots."

With '100 Objects', timing was a problem. Because the opera was in rehearsal in Germany, Coates didn't get to see it until the book was finished. So he asked Greenaway to highlight words in the manuscript, interpreted the emphases and added his own playful devices. Finally he lined his studio's walls with the layouts "like a giant storyboard. I think it's a good way of seeing a book and I think it's how Peter thinks about it too." Commenting on their collaboration, Greenaway lauds Coates's typographical treatments: "Stephen has animated the libretto to new heights of interpretation. He is effortless to work with, making wise points with such self-effacing generosity that I know he's inevitably three steps ahead of me, banking space for himself to make sure his expertise and knowledge is well-used."

Asked to define the end product Coates gets philosophical: "I think anything between covers on paper can be a book. These are collaborations between Peter and myself. My work needs good content providers because for me the interesting bit of design is the learning process - reading the book for the first time, trying to interpret it for yourself, then explaining it back to the client. That's where Peter is great because he's got so many ideas and references"...


Flying Over Water
Extract from an article accompanying a Design Distinction award,
'I.D.' magazine

British filmmaker Peter Greenaway's public fascination with archetypes, topography and ritualistic death found a new outlet last year in an exhibition exploring the myth of Icarus, "the first flyer, the first air disaster." The book 'Flying Over Water', published to coincide with the exhibition at the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona, articulates the themes of the show with a blend of restraint, visual lushness and typographic complexity. The jurors praised designer Stephen Coates for producing a successful adjunct to the exhibition that translated some of the concerns of Greenaway's films without mechanically mimicking his style.

The bilingual book is divided into 30 chapters, presented on the contents page in a layout suggestive of a bifurcated winged creature. This sets the tone for the typographic treatment that follows in the preface, at once readable and slightly disruptive. Occasonally, in accordance with the content, the words form steps or float above or sink below the baseline, mid-sentence. Greenaway's themes - tracking the aspirations, preparations, ascent, descent and death of the Greek hero - are illustrated with works by the author, archival photographs and illustrations and treasures of art history - including Jacques-Louis David's 'Dying Marat' and Caravaggio's 'Amor Victorious'.

Louise Gonzales Crisp praised the book's mix of restraint - it remains invitingly readable throughout - and expressiveness. She also cited Coates's cogent handling of the two languages, and "the fact the designer didn't minimise the Spanish with a sigh of resignation." She added, "he used both translations to build accessible, textural pages that are visually replete."