Five Questions With UpSwitch

Written by Michael Hanley
on 06 August, 2020

Upswitch has been sparking imaginations and brightening homes since 2015! Melbourne maker, Michael’s inventive mind and ability to see beyond a forgotten object has seen the market light up with his playful and nostalgic, designs. These upcycled lamps capture the beholder and have a way to connect with everyone. There’s nothing quite like that market moment when someone opens Michael’s Vintage folding book lamp!

Read on as Michael shares the beginnings of Upswitch and what’s currently on his workbench. 
Take a peek inside Upswitch’s magical shop here too.

Who is behind Upswitch and how did it start? 

My name is Michael Hanley, and I’ve always had a curiosity and appreciation for old, forgotten objects. I started out collecting all manner of things from op shops, second hand markets, curbside rubbish collections and garage sales to fix and resell them. Stereos, Record players, furniture, musical instruments, cameras, stackhats, you name it! I hadn’t considered repurposing objects until an inspiring trip to a farm-stay in a tiny German village in 2015, where I stayed with a found object artist for about a week. He helped me realize that I already had loads of materials to create my own art with and it gave me the idea to start upcycling with broken and disused objects. Upon return I decided to try making lamps to begin with, before developing other furniture. Since then, I’ve continued to primarily focus on making lamps and I haven’t become bored of it yet!

For me, creativity is about spending time being free to experiment and explore my ideas.

What does creativity mean to you and how do you approach each project?

For me, creativity is about spending time being free to experiment and explore my ideas. The aim is to allow myself to be present with what’s in front of me, and just let my hands, head and heart have fun. I’ve been fortunate enough that my parents were always encouraging and supportive of me in pursuing my creative passions.

The aim is to allow myself to be present with what’s in front of me, and just let my hands, head and heart have fun.

Each project always starts with the original inspiration felt when I first chanced upon the particular object. It may have a certain character or charm that resonates with me, such as an intriguing shape, material or colour. It might be over 100 years old, tired, worn out and no longer serves its original purpose. When deciding the best approach to repurpose it into a lamp, I’ll often consider it’s previous function to try and maintain it’s distinct character.

What influences your work, is there a person or business you admire and look up to?

Due to the historical nature of most objects and materials I use, I find myself drawn to’ older styles from the Victorian era and early 1900s, such as industrial and art deco. I’ve always loved quirky, eccentric artists like Dr Seuss, Rene Magritte, Escher and Alexander Calder, who seem to look at the world with a curious and inquisitive nature. I try to take a similar approach to make lamps that are playful and nostalgic, which people can connect with more than the mass-produced lighting found in stores.

Sometimes I find myself inspired by other artists who use upcycled materials, thinking “Why didn’t I come up with that!”, and other times I’m influenced by a mundane object because it looks like a face from a certain angle. I really don’t know where the next idea will come from, which keeps it fun.

What are you loving at the moment and what are you currently working on?

Due to the current COVID situation and time out from the markets, I’ve been enjoying the chance to re-organise my workshop, sifting through boxes of materials and finding objects that I’d completely forgotten about! It’s allowed me to rediscover and rework some old ideas, like a pile of vintage rotary dial telephones and someone’s old collection of tennis racquets I acquired. It’s fun to take these discarded, everyday objects and transform them into something new and useful again.

I’ve also been busy fulfilling custom orders for people who bring me a family heirloom or a favourite old thing that they want to display in a meaningful and functional way. So I’ve had a vintage roller skate, a 1920’s portable gramophone and a pair of someone’s old binoculars on the workbench of late.

Sing out to a fellow maker and tell us what it is about their work that speaks to you?

One of my favourites from the Finders Keepers markets is Sydney based ‘Foolhouse’, who create wonderfully whimsical things such as secret storage boxes, sculptures and wall art, all using vintage and antique books.

Of course I love all things upcycled, but Sarah Lamond’s work is uniquely quaint and full of character. Like me, she has a passion for all things antiquated, and an astute eye for detail. She sources beautiful old books, some from the 1800’s, and with a scroll saw she meticulously carves the insides of the book pages into a variety of shapes… animals, flowers, book characters and more! I love how Sarah sees the beauty and potential in retired, neglected books and invites people to appreciate them with a new purpose. I hope that my work can do the same.

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