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Michael Gittings Likes To Imagine With His Hands

Zachary Calleja

Words by Zachary Calleja

Michael Gittings Likes To Imagine With His Hands

Michael Gittings imagines with his hands. Since establishing his studio in 2016, the Melbourne-based designer and sculptor has built an impressive practice, producing a vast array of curious and covetable objects. With work featured in Sydney Design Week 2022 and an upcoming solo exhibition at Oigåll Projects in Melbourne, Gittings is excitedly (and busily) preparing to share his talent and craft with new audiences.

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

I recently sat down with Gittings to discuss his recent work and broader creative process. There was the sense of someone quietly buzzing with productivity and ideas, thrilled to be making and exploring new techniques. Whether it be envisioning a new collection of kink-inspired polished metal objects, or tweaking a pair of heat-proof gloves to interact more intimately and gesturally with blown glass (a new material obsession). Playful, speculative and down-to-earth, Gittings conveyed the impression of a designer hitting their stride, propelled by curiosity and a wealth of gathered experience. After the last two years of restrictions, Gittings says “it kind of feels like the start”.

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

Originally crafting more classic furniture shapes in his signature metalwork, Gittings’ creations have become increasingly marked by organic abstraction, subversion and evolution. This intertwines with Gittings’ process of making – one that is extremely intuitive and guided by experimentation. Aside from the deep technical traditions he engages with, there is an openness to the possibilities and whims of the materials themselves; as if they are living, feeling substances.

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

According to Gittings, it wasn’t always destined to be furniture or sculpture. “I originally wanted to make guitars” he admits with a smile. “But then I quickly worked out I can’t do that, because there’re certain... limitations. Like a guitar or violin actually has to sound good [laughs]. Like you can’t just make a shit sounding guitar” he quips. “What I like about furniture, is that there’s a starting place to begin from. There are still some constraints... but there just feels like all of these possibilities. You can make so many different shapes, textures, weird forms. I don’t necessarily think about it conceptually, I just find it more interesting to play with these things and ideas and see where the work wants to go.”

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

For his solo exhibition at Oigåll Projects, Gittings took a twisting journey down a nocturnal, overgrown path. He relished the opportunity to create something unrestricted and unfettered. “When I came to [Andy Kelly and Mitchell Zurek] with the idea for what I wanted to make, they were like just go wild. Which was a relief. I get excited when I start putting a plan together. I wanted that energy and excitement shared, otherwise it’s quashed and crushed... It’s grown massively since it’s conception.” The show, titled ‘when the night ripped a hole through Eden’, is an exploration of organic plant-like shapes and rippling, almost reptilian textures, prompting dystopian narratives and conveying an elegant savageness. They appear almost like Jurassic artifacts, recovered from tar.

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

“It’s heaps darker now than I originally imagined. When I first started thinking about the show, I liked the idea of it existing within a kind of fantasy realm. It was very colourful, there was lots of mirrored surfaces. But that idea just morphed when I discovered how to texture the metal in this specific way, instead of polishing. I also

started thinking about panpsychism, the consciousness of plants and animals, a more psychological direction than the last collection I made. I started having weird dreams, which usually happens in the lead up to a show. I’m working constantly and so a symbiosis occurs. There’s a dark violence to them now.”

Gittings’ work for ‘Future Ruins’, which exhibited last year at Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert in Sydney, also renders scenes of nature taking over, reclaiming and infiltrating domestic objects and architectural spaces. For the designer, this aesthetic is ultimately a product of the overall design process and discovering how to make new shapes and forms. “My thought processes are aligning with my abilities, so the organic elements are kind of appearing as I work”.

This statement beautifully reflects the unchained-making process that Gittings seeks in his practice, embodying a loosening or revision of rigid and traditional forms. He prefers only to make what he can produce himself, which results in countless hours of research and experimentation with different forms of craft. This independent spirit is something that infuses all of his pieces. Epitomising the do-it-yourself modus operandi of many artist-designers in recent years, Gittings remarks on his specific approach and why it resonates with others. “Connection to actual making, to craft exists. Nowadays people are able to learn how to make things on YouTube. It’s interesting to see if there will be a split—if product making will become null and void.”

Studio process shots of Michael working. Photos by @annikakafcaloudis

There is an intrinsic narrative that overlays Gittings recent work, a sense of liberation and connection. It makes one wonder what is to come as the designer and craftsman expands the boundaries of what is materially possible within his practice. In this context, his humble statement about it feeling like the start of his career has a ring of truth to it. He’s really only just beginning to show the depth of his genius and skill.

Michael Gittings’ work features in OFFSITE, launching at Powerhouse Museum as part of Sydney Design Week (15 – 22 September 2022)

Michael’s solo exhibition, ‘when the night ripped a hole through Eden’ launches at Oigåll Projects in Fitzroy, Melbourne from 22 September.

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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