Originally released as a limited-edition deck of cards in 1974, Oblique Strategies (Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt has influenced countless artists with its epigrammatic phrases designed to help them through artistic barriers. Over the next four decades, the deck has been reissued several times (the 5th edition is currently available at enoshop.co.uk/product/oblique-strategies.html) as well as implemented online in various web-based configurations.
This year, artist/musician Noah Wall took the Oblique Strategies a step further by creating his own 50-card deck, Grotesque Tables II. The phrases on the cards, as well as the deck’s title, are anagrams of the originals. (There is no Grotesque Tables I: the II in the name is the pair “ii” from the original title.)
Opening my copy of Grotesque Tables II for the first time before an improvisational performance, I pulled a card reading “Be Frictionless Latecomer,” an anagram of Eno/Schmidt’s “Be Less Critical More Often.” I was hooked. The next day, I contacted Wall by email to ask what had inspired him to make these cards.
“It came from the idea of taking an iconic piece of generative art and using it to make another, new generative piece,” he explained. “There is an Oblique Strategy that reads ‘Do the words need rearranging?’ I read this as an invitation to transpose the original strategies into new, further oblique’d prompts by way of anagrams.
“In the end, it feels like a continuation that is, I hope, very much in the spirit of the original deck.
“If the original strategies help you get out of trouble, Grotesque Tables II might be better at getting you into it. Constructively interpreting the cards may require some pretty rigorous lateral thinking. Nevertheless, my hope is that people will use the prompts in Grotesque Tables II to make things.”
I couldn’t help asking Wall if Brian Eno has seen Grotesque Tables II and, if so, what was his reaction?
In these photos, an original card from Oblique Strategies is on the left, and a card from Grotesque Tables II is on the right.
“Eno has been very supportive of the project. Upon receiving a Grotesque Tables II deck, he pulled the ‘Let fissure’ card from the deck and responded with: ‘Let the Oblique Strategies fissure into a million wonderful variants, of which this is the first.’ He also praised the cards in his lecture at Edinburgh College of Art.” (A link to the video can be found at the website below.)
To demonstrate the myriad ways Grotesque Tables II can be utilized, Wall created a web page featuring artists’ projects that were inspired by the deck.
“The section is called Gross, as in ‘What people are doing with Grotesque Tables II is Gross,’’ he told me. As this story went to press, Gross included card interpretations from visual artists (“Elope by Mere Thread” by Veronika Pausova); musicians (a flip book by Aakash Nihalani and a bowed bass solo by Chris Corsano based on “Notice Arc”); chefs (“Stew out Frothy Union” by Grace Bush-Vineberg, and Three Pies by Pizzeria LaFerrara); and writers (Four Poems by Hermione Hoby). But Wall isn’t done yet.
“There is a new edition of the cards coming soon called Scores. Each card contains a musical score that is also an anagram of Oblique Strategies.”
Visit grotesquetablesii.com to watch the project develop further and to order a deck ($20 plus tax and shipping).