Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Brian Eno | Oblique Strategies (Peter Norton Family Christmas Project versions)

Brian Eno
Oblique Strategies (Fourth Edition)
Santa Monica, USA: Peter Norton Family Christmas Project, 1996
5.5 x 5.5 x 1.5"
Edition size unknown

"My wife and I are active in the world of contemporary art, and some time ago we became embarrassed at the idea of sending out traditional commercial cards at Christmastime when we had so many artists as friends. So we began commissioning original Christmas greetings, which we send out to our closest friends and colleagues.

We'd long had a few copies of the "third again revised" edition of Oblique Strategies and liked it a lot. We were casual friends with Brian Eno, his wife Anthea, and their daughters, so I contacted Brian to see if we could publish a new edition for Christmas 1996.

He quickly agreed and began working at revising the set. The incidental story of that effort you can find scattered through Brian's published diary.

Brian concentrated on two things: First, the usual business of adding, subtracting, and refining the Strategies that has gone on with each previous revision. And second, broadening the focus of the Strategies, so that they were less about music and painting, and more about universal creative challenges.

After some months Brian sent me the results, one hundred and six dilemmas along with notes on others; and he encouraged me to play with them, to do my own revising. I took to that with relish. I pared them down to an even one hundred and polished the way they were expressed: making them more poetic, if I could, and changing the flavor of the words from the British dialect to the American.

But I wanted to do more. To add some special value to this edition. I was struck by Brian's efforts to point them away from music and painting, towards the universal. I picked that up as a theme and decided to make this set more universally accessible, to more than the English-speaking world. After a little research, I discovered that the half- dozen most widely spoken languages, together, were known to more than half of the world's population. (It's interesting to try to guess what these languages are; the mistakes in our guessing tell us a lot about our cultural and geographic myopia. The top half-dozen languages: Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Among people I've talked to, most of their missed guesses appear in the second half-dozen: Japanese, French, German, Portuguese, Bengali, and Malay. Score six for Europe, five for Asia -- including two in India; and Malay which almost no Westerner would guess -- and one for Arabia. None for highly balkanized Africa.)

So I set about to make this not only the "fourth again revised edition" (as Brian would put it) but also a "more universal" edition. I hired Berlitz to do the translations, giving them unusual instructions: to be free, lyrical, and poetic; a refreshing change for Berlitz's team, who are accustomed to the dreary work of precisely translating technical manuals and the like.

You don't have to be able to read these translations to see some of the freedom the Berlitz translators exercised: In the Hindi translation some questions became statements and some statements became questions. The one-word strategy "Water" has a one-word translation in everything but Spanish, where it became the evocative "Elementalmente ... Agua".

I expected that my bright idea -- of a "universal" rendering in the most widely spoken languages -- would be the key feature of this edition. But I was mistaken.

Once we had the text of the "fourth again revised and more universal edition" we needed to determine the form. First I thought we would find an exotic material to make the cards out of. In this age where striking new materials appear almost daily, I expected we would find something amazing -- a card stock that was transparent on one side, opaque on the other, or something equally fantastic. But we found nothing suitable.

So we turned to design, per se, to make the form of the cards interesting. One of our artist friends, Pae White, also worked as a graphic designer and we engaged her to give the deck a new form.

And she did.

Following the principles of contemporary design (roughly stated: violate all the classic principles of design) Pae made a deck that was wild, noisy, narcissistic, self- referential, illegible, smart and stupid by turns. And designed a container for the deck of cool, white, marble- like plastic, Dupont Corian, in the shape of an abstract dog bone.

This was a design so high-profile that it called all attention to itself (another contemporary design principle) and left Brian's words and Berlitz's languages in the background. But it was magnificent.

And this became the 1996 "fourth again revised and more universal edition" of the Oblique Strategies."
- Peter Norton to Gregory Taylor,

Brian Eno
Oblique Strategies - Canasta Edition 
Santa Monica, USA: Peter Norton Family Christmas Project, 2014
box: 9.5 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm.,  card stack (each): 8.9 x 5.7 x 1.6 cm.
Edition size unknown

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