Spike Island

Reviewed: Daniel Eatock Talk

Artist and designer Daniel Eatock presented a lecture on his practice here on Tuesday 15 May. The following reflections on the talk are written by Jeremy Cooper, a writer and novelist whose collection of artists’ postcards includes several of Eatock’s pieces and is currently on display in The Artists’ Postcard Show.

Eatock described this talk as ‘more like a performance, making a chain of creative connections’ in travel around a full circle of selected images. He notes that, in his work, he constantly searches to express an objective truth, and is thus attracted to inventing formulas that remove chance and decision from the final making. This results in the formation of things that are indubitably what they seem to be, works which could not exist in any other form – such as the can of spray paint spray painted [using a fan] with its own paint, an object which Eatock describes as ‘the perfect representation of itself’.

Linked to this approach is Eatock’s liking for works which exist in contradiction of their function: for example, a free-standing stack of shelves storing cardboard boxes which themselves hold up the wooden shelves. As with other artists, Eatock enjoys following ideas forward step by step. A related bookshelf work, shown in Extra Medium (curated by Richard Torchia at Arcadia University Art Gallery, Philadelphia in 2008), was composed of five shelves each fixed to the wall with a single bracket. For the middle shelf, the bracket was placed in the precise centre, empty and therefore self-balancing; for the other shelves the brackets were in various places, horizontal balance achieved through appropriate weighting of the shelves. The top shelf was the most precarious, requiring the heaviest counter-weights, and one night, perhaps affected by a draft, it toppled, bringing the others beneath down with it. The construction had been weighted by several paint tins, one of which spilled open. It happened to be a leftover tin from painting the floor, the spill therefore virtually invisible. The curator agreed with Eatock’s request to leave the collapsed work untouched, apart from a photograph on the now-vacant wall of the original structure.

When artists express similar ideas at the same sort-of time, there need be no implication of direct cross-referencing. The inspiration may indeed come from different directions with no knowledge, before or after, of each other’s work. What such instances do suggest, though, is some kind of concurrence of artistic gaze within this new generation of British artists. For example, Scott Myles, who was born in the same year as Daniel Eatock – 1975, in Dundee rather than Bolton – made in 2006 a double-piece called On Display and Disguise and Apex, in which a symmetrical, painted triangular shelf is fixed to the wall and an identically shaped piece of wood is placed on top. Myles’s actual shelf is therefore designed solely to hold a potential shelf, in concept akin to Eatock’s practice.

Eatock is drawn towards the physical expression of puns and risible jokes, pleased to take the risk of ridicule, in the hope of ending up with something unexpectedly memorable. He is, however, resistant to labelling of all kinds, either on material objects – none of his clothes bear makers’ emblems, and sticky labels are instantly removed from the fruit he buys – or in description of his creative activities. If anything, he sees himself as a sculptor rather than a graphic designer, his subject at art school – even when making postcards the quality for which he aims tends to be sculptural. In practice, Eatock continues to accept commercial commissions to design books, packaging, logos, etc., the income necessary to pay the expenses of his studio-home in London, whilst these days he always seeks to share with his clients ideas beyond the brief. Because his approach is by now well known, he tends to be asked to do work by people who respect these methods.

He is wary of a direct, driven approach to production, of succumbing to a sense of creative pressure or to any element of competition, internal as well as external. In his Spike Island talk Eatock stated: ‘I think I make things best from the in-between times, when I have other things to do.’ He acknowledges feeling intimidated by making aesthetic decisions and prefers to proceed with whatever he finds around the place, the work itself often actually about these chance encounters.

With regard to his inspirational connection to other artists, Eatock’s early influential encounter came on his move to America after graduating in 1998 with an MA from the RCA, to work for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The librarian there was a leading figure in the formation of substantial collections of artists’ books, which were made available to users of the library to handle directly, at the same time as commissioning artists to make their own. As Eatock notes in his 2008 book Imprint, he was enormously impressed by work in this field by Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, Hans-Peter Feldman and Martin Kippenberger, making him for the first time aware that books could be works of fine art.