Friday, 1 October 2010

Mapping project-Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards with words on them. These words are intended to inspire the mind and excite the creative energies in an artist, engineer, or anyone who is grappling with a problem they can't solve. The intent of the cards is to offer a completely random, wholly objective and interpersonal source from which to bounce off ideas. The cards have no alterior motive. Their only real purpose is to get one to look at any dilemma from a new and innovative direction. The cards are not supposed to solve problems, but they can be used as a tool to help one get to that solution to any given problem. At least in theory.
The first edition of Oblique Strategies were published in 1975 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Two more editions were published prior to 1980. They were published in the form of a deck of cards. Upon each card was printed one of the many observations Eno and Schmidt had made during their work together. These observations were found to be principles underlying their efforts and accomplishments, based upon intuition and intellect. The early editions were relatively simple. The cards were about three inches by four inches, solid black on one side, and each card had one maxim or saying printed in undramatic ten point sans serif font face. Each deck came in a small black box with "Oblique Strategies.. Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt" printed on the box. Only 150 of the first edition were made. The other two editions were only a bit more aggressively produced, perhaps five hundred to a thousand copies exist today worldwide.

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt were long-time friends and collaborators on many creative, engineering projects. In 1980, Peter Schmidt met an untimely death in Spain, which unceremoniously ended their collaboration, and for many years Brian Eno refused to continue public work on Oblique Strategies, in honor of his fallen friend. Eno remained the curator, but it seemed to somehow profit or commercially make the Oblique Strategies available without his friend there to share the joy with him... Well, anything further on that would be speculation based on uncertain assumptions. Suffice it to say the actual original decks of the Oblique Strategies have become quite rare and obscure, and the deck of cards itself never achieved mainstream popularity.

However, for Christmas of 1996 Eno decided to work with a gentleman named Peter Norton and his family. They published one final official edition. They made the cards much more elaborate, with more colorful and inspiring designs on each card. The rules were also written in several different languages on each card. There were only 4000 copies of this fourth edition made, and they were presented privately to friends and associates. It is believed this final deck has reached throughout the world, but it is nearly impossible to attain a copy, as they were not intended for the public. Other names who contributed to the fourth edition include: Arto Lindsay, Ritva Saarikko, Dieter Rot, and Stewart Brand. Eno has contemplated the Oblique Strategies occasionally since. He published a diary once which included contemplations of other aphorisms that he considered including in some future version, if ever he felt compelled to do so. As of this writing, he still has not.

Others have also contemplated such additions, most notably the Whole Earth Catalog. The Oblique Strategies were also mentioned briefly in the 1991 film Slacker directed by Richard Linklatter. However, so was a Madonna pap smear, so I'm not sure how notable the Oblique Strategies being mentioned in the film Slacker might be, come to think of it. To be fair to the film, it did mention in the dialogue five of the Oblique Strategies' maxims: "Honor thy error as a hidden intention," "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify," "Not building a wall; making a brick," Repetition is a form of change," and "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy."
Throughout the world people have realized a universality among these word combinations: they speak to the mind, to the heart and to the gut. Whatever obstacles a person may find in their life, meditating on one of these strategies can help a person focus towards their goal. These oblique strategies never provide answers, but they give a person impetus to look somewhere they hadn't thought of looking before. It's like having someone look over your shoulder and point out something you overlooked.

One can mull over the entire list of possibilites and choose the one most appropriate to the moment. One can opt to have a specific personal life issue in mind, or just attempt to grok the wisdom of the list as a whole without a personal issue upon which to reflect. However, we all have issues of one form or another, and exploring the list, most individuals will hear one cry out to them as words of hope, or opportunities to open the mind and think outside the box. These strategies were generally inspired by engineers and creative artists, but they speak to the entire spectrum of mankind, from architects to zoologists, and everyone in between.

Traditionally, the strategies are seen separately, on cards. An individual holds the deck in hand, contemplates a personal issue of any kind, and draws a single card from a shuffled deck. If only one card is selected, the proper procedure is to trust implicitly the advice of that strategy, even if its validity to the moment is unclear. One can choose to select more than one card as separate words of advice, or buffer it with the original situation.

"They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident." - Brian Eno

The future of this project is unclear, but it should be pointed out that each of the decks also included blank cards, encouraging the possessor of each deck to add their own thoughts and observations to the deck. It can be surmised that this project does not have to end with the untimely passing of Peter Schmidt, but that each person can opt to create their own deck from scratch, using Eno and Schmidt's axioms as a starting point and adding their own at their leisure.

Here are the cards themselves:

* Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
* Don't be frightened of cliches
* What is the reality of the situation?
* Are there sections? Consider transitions
* Turn it upside down
* Think of the radio
* Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)
* Simple subtraction
* Go slowly all the way round the outside
* A line has two sides
* Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the last thing on the list
* Into the impossible
* Ask people to work against their better judgement
* Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance
* Infinitesimal gradations
* Change instrument roles
* Accretion
* Disconnect from desire
* Emphasize repetitions
* Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do
* Don't be frightened to display your talents
* Breathe more deeply
* Honor thy error as a hidden intention
* Only one element of each kind
* Is there something missing?
* Use `unqualified' people
* How would you have done it?
* Emphasize differences
* Do nothing for as long as possible
* Bridges -build -burn
* You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas
* Tidy up
* Do the words need changing?
* Ask your body
* Water
* Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate
* Consult other sources -promising -unpromising
* Use an unacceptable color
* Humanize something free of error
* Use filters
* Fill every beat with something
* Discard an axiom
* What wouldn't you do?
* Decorate, decorate
* Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle
* Listen to the quiet voice
* Is it finished?
* Put in earplugs
* Give the game away
* Abandon normal instruments
* Use fewer notes
* Repetition is a form of change
* Give way to your worst impulse
* Reverse
* Trust in the you of now
* What would your closest friend do?
* Distorting time
* Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
* blank white card
* Ghost echoes
* You can only make one dot at a time
* Just carry on
* (Organic) machinery
* The inconsistency principle
* Don't break the silence
* Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
* Cascades
* Courage!
* What mistakes did you make last time?
* Consider different fading systems
* Mute and continue
* It is quite possible (after all)
* Don't stress one thing more than another
* You are an engineer
* Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics
* Look at the order in which you do things
* Go outside. Shut the door.
* Do we need holes?
* Cluster analysis
* Do something boring
* Define an area as `safe' and use it as an anchor
* Overtly resist change
* Accept advice
* Work at a different speed
* Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
* Mechanicalize something idiosyncratic
* Emphasize the flaws
* Remember .those quiet evenings
* Take a break
* Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)
* Use an old idea
* Destroy -nothing -the most important thing
* Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
* The tape is now the music

1 comment:

  1. The concept of Oblique Strategies was originally created by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt to help artists overcome instances of creative block. It is a 7 x 9cm deck of printed cards that contains a cryptic remark that can be used to break a deadlock or dilemma. I’ve never tried Oblique Strategies, but it is definitely something that is worth looking into. Writers, painters, and musicians spend most of their time pondering about something, looking for inspiration, than actually working on something. Most of the time, it would take them ages to get over the creative slump, most often, at the cost of their well-being. It is good that something like this was devised to get things moving. How effective it is and if it applies to every creative mind out there, however, remains to be seen.

    Alexandra Gale


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