People

Infinite wisdom

More than a collection of objects, An Astute Assembly is about connection – and might change how you feel about life.

After running their business online for five years, a chance conversation led Yuka O’Shannessy and Yoko Shimoyama of An Astute Assembly to the perfect location for a bricks-and-mortar store on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. They were operating from a nearby co-working space when a chat at the local café alerted them to the opportunity to join Joseph Yen and Christopher Duncan at their studio/store/gallery TÜR Studio a few doors down. A few months later, they moved in.

Yuka, what’s special about the pieces you select for An Astute Assembly? We collect unique objects made locally and in Japan, products that age well and last for a long time. These tend to be objects that have been produced on a small scale and have had a good amount of time spent on them by the maker – the artist’s dedication, consideration and philosophy are stamped on them. There are often great stories and meaning behind them, and sometimes this can give us a different perspective on life.
Handmade crafts have a hidden wisdom that I find fascinating. We like to focus on this aspect and let makers share the stories behind their objects with our customers through workshops and exhibitions.

TOP Pictured from left are Yoko, Joe and Yuka. ABOVE This handwoven shawl (on the wall, top) is by TÜR’s Christopher, who until recently had his loom set up in the studio. “We like to stock a mix of beautiful but practical objects and very artistic pieces,” says Yuka. “Most of the great atmosphere in the store had already been created by TÜR by the time we arrived in May, but it complements our products perfectly. Christopher and Joe have amazing connections with local artists and Joe has exquisite taste in art, so it’s very exciting to team up with them. Yoko and I are respectful of the existing aesthetic of the space, but we’re also trying to do something new within it.”

Tell us more about the events you host. We want people to visit us to learn and be inspired, and not just feel like they have to shop, so we’re using the space like a gallery, rotating artists and exhibiting their work for one or two months alongside our permanent items. We also run workshops on subjects that are relevant to the products we’re exhibiting. They’re often cross-cultural collaborations – for example, we’re planning to host an ikebana workshop that will teach people how to arrange flowers in the traditional Japanese way in bowls by New Zealand-based ceramicist Elena Renker. We like to think of them as chemical reactions that could give rise to new ideas and new work.

How would you describe your aesthetic? I’ve always been drawn to things that are imperfect and even slightly peculiar, but a great balance of proportions also makes me smile. I’m obsessed with dried leaves and branches, old things and unexpected compositions. I like how a little object can have an aura that changes the atmosphere of a space. It doesn’t need to be new or neat; the thing I care most about is the silhouette.

TOP A shirt and tunic made by Joe for his label Thyen hang in the window near pieces by Elena Renker, Walk in the Park and other talented artisans. ABOVE Yoko makes a repair using kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold-dusted lacquer.

Does working here inspire your own creative practice? Yes, definitely. Being surrounded by such beautiful pieces and seeing how dedicated other makers are to their work gives me the courage to express myself, and the constant exchange of ideas makes me consider new ways to apply them. I love the vibe and hope that our customers feel the same way.

Why should we all aim to buy handmade? I think it’s important to champion handcrafts to help preserve traditional techniques, because if we don’t support the artisans creating these works, the handmade trades will be forgotten. Handmade items also make economic and environmental sense. If you buy something you love that’s made properly, it should last a lifetime – or many lifetimes, in some cases.

ABOVE Wares are assembled in an organic manner on vintage tables and shelves. “Sharing our retail space with TÜR Studio has a bit of a wabi-sabi feel to it,” says Yuka, referencing the Japanese philosophy that acknowledges beauty as imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. “We all care how things are displayed, with worn antique furniture, dried flowers and just the right amount of letting go of control of all these elements.”

What’s your ultimate ambition for the store? We really want it to become a destination where you can find both everyday pieces and that amazing one-off object that will become someone’s treasure. I also hope that the connections made between our makers and customers will enrich people’s lives. I received so much support when I moved to Auckland to study fashion, so now I want to return the favour –and have fun doing it.
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Words Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson