Meet the Maker – Michael Hanley, Upswitch
Michael Hanley creates unique handmade lamps, using upcycled materials. From science equipment, cameras, salvaged copper/brass, timber and anything in between, Upswitch reinvents old treasures into functional art pieces that inspire and illuminate.
How would you describe your work?
Upswitch creates handmade one-of-a-kind lamps and homewares using upcycled materials. This might include science and laboratory instruments, kitchenalia, cameras, shoe lasts, reclaimed timbers, old copper/brass and anything in between. Using these old and discarded objects, Upswitch reinvents and reimagines them into new and inspiring pieces to cherish.
How did the Upswitch journey begin, what Is your story? Who or what inspired you to begin in your field?
I’ve always been a collector of old and interesting objects, ever since my dad introduced me to garage sales and markets as a youngster. After many years of rummaging, I had developed a knack for finding cool stuff, as if it gravitated towards me. I would often scour through hard rubbish and find discarded things in need of a little repair, so I’d take them home and tinker about, fixing them to be re-homed. The problem was that I’d found so many worthwhile things that I’d filled the shed! Then when I travelled through Germany in 2014, I stayed with an ‘assemblage artist’ who created fantastic art pieces from discarded objects. He inspired me to combine my collecting habits with repurposing, and upon return Upswitch was born.
What are your current artistic influences and what inspires you to carry on doing what you’re doing?
At the moment I’m really into Jos Van Hulsen, a brilliant Melbourne artist who creates everything from discarded and found objects, producing lots of welded and sculptural pieces. He runs a cafe called Post Industrial Design and has created an incredible Christmas window display, made with gizmos and contraptions like the mouse trap board game mixed with Nightmare before Christmas… Seeing it up close made me feel like a six year old again. Then there’s Anthony Howe, who creates these beautifully elegant kinesthetic garden sculptures that mesmerise with their shape and movement. They look like outer worldy creatures flying through the sky, moving with nothing but air and gravity. Lastly, I’ve been really into Cyrus Kabiru’s work. He’s a Kenyan upcycler, making intricate headpieces and eyewear from old computer parts, cans, shells or anything else he can use.
Every time I do a market, the comments and reactions to my work really inspire me to keep making quirky upcycled things. Seeing people smile and getting excited by something I’ve created, that’s a really good feeling and it always drives me to try new designs and features.
What’s a typical day for Upswitch?
It all definitely starts with a coffee, followed by some emailing and admin, plus a bit of a browse on eBay and Gumtree to see if there are any new goodies up for grabs. Then I’ll head towards the workshop to do some building. If I’m lucky there’ll be a pile of hard rubbish or a skip on the way, with something useful like timber offcuts or some old kitchen utensils awaiting my collection. At the workshop I might start preparing some salvaged timber for use, or polish a few brass and copper trinkets to be switcherooed into the next lamp. If I haven’t got any upcoming orders I’ll start designing and building something new, first sifting through boxes of bits and bobs and seeing what can be fused together. Some days I can build 4-5 identical lamps in a production line, or at other times I’ll work on one lamp for several days, working and reworking until it’s just right.
Which other designers are you looking forward to seeing when you come to Bowerbird 25 – 27 November?
So many to choose from! A few fellow Melbournites that I’m always happy to see are Femke Textiles and Tassel & Twine. Also can’t wait to check out fellow upcyclists Alfie & Audrey and see their amazing stuff.
What’s your favourite piece of your own work that will be available for at Bowerbird?
One piece that has been dear to me since its birth is called ‘Pollock’ or ‘Starman’. He’s a junk robot lamp, made from an old handmade tin box multimeter, some torches, door handles and a bike headlight. He always steals the show, and is one of my creations that I will definitely miss once he finds a new home.
What advice would you give other aspiring artists and designers?
Don’t think too much about what you want to create before you start something new. There’s no point waiting for inspiration to come, just dive in and see where it takes you.