100 Objects to Represent the World: A Prop Opera | 1997

This opera libretto written by Peter Greenaway was premiered at the Salzburg Zeitfluss Festival in 1997. Greenaway's notion was to revisit the collection of objects sent into outer space aboard the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 by making a subjective shopping list of his own.

Published by Change Performing Arts

See also 'Flying Over Water'

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"...