When Hong Kong-based Portuguese artist João Vasco Paiva needed a studio assistant to help with a large-scale sculpture for Art Basel Hong Kong, the news spread quickly by word of mouth. Jakarta-born painting student Novita Permatasari jumped on the opportunity. Despite finals being just around the corner, Novita traveled between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China to assist the artist in creating Mausoleum (2015), a massive sculptural installation inspired by ordinary Styrofoam coolers found in local markets. We caught up with Novita to reflect on her experience at the world’s premier contemporary art fair and being in the right place at the right time, as Hong Kong’s art scene is rising.
SCAD: What interested you in studying fine arts?
NP: Fine arts hold so many possibilities. I used to think painting was a major where you spent a lot of money and didn’t receive anything in return. Then I hung around with painters during my foundations year and that changed my mind. Obviously, that thinking is obsolete. Art Basel, for example, is the way contemporary artists sell paintings and how they become superstars. In the fine art world, you get to meet many people and you get to mingle. It excites me.
I like meeting new people from other worlds; I like to learn their cultures. That’s what attracts me. Painting is a way to live freely. - Novita Permatasari
SCAD: What drew you to switch your major from animation to painting?
NP: I took both animation and painting classes during my first year because SCAD students are not limited to classes in their majors. With painting, I can harness more experimentation with real material. I’m okay with using the computer; I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just that I like to touch things with my own hands.
SCAD: Walk us through your internship experience with João Vasco Paiva.
NP: João derived the idea for Mausoleum from his last show and he just pushed the boundaries. I was involved in the preparation stage. Although the sculpture itself is big, it’s comprised of small pieces: Styrofoam boxes cast in resin. The tape seen in the sculpture looks real, but it’s not real tape. It’s casted. In the casting material, everything is comprised of white concrete. Before he painted it, I had to mask everything to make sure the paint didn’t leak out. So each person could only mask eight to ten boxes per day because they had so many holes. It was labor-intensive. I also helped to dismantle the sculpture. There were 208 boxes that we wrapped delicately, one by one. We started at about 5:00 p.m. when the fair ended and finished around 1:00 a.m.
SCAD: Tell us about your work with Edouard Malingue Gallery, Mr. Paiva’s gallery.
NP: The internship began when I was working with João on Mausoleum in Shenzhen. They needed more hands because of Art Basel Hong Kong. Now I do their design work and assist with the gallery’s social media coverage. I also update artist PDFs and create renderings for clients to show how a painting will look in their home. It’s a three-month internship, but my goal is to work there through August, when the gallery has a show in Indonesia.
SCAD: Describe the experience of working for an international gallery in Hong Kong.
NP: It’s fun. There is so much pressure to get work done, so every day we set targets and keep the social media going. As you know with social media, if you are inactive even for one day interest will quickly decline. You have to keep posting. Writing the blurbs is not as easy as I thought. When you’re talking about other artists, you have to do editorial research on their work.
SCAD: In what ways have these experiences influenced your personal art practice?
NP: If you consider what was shown at Art Basel Hong Kong, art is becoming more conceptual instead of commercial. My art is leaning more towards the conceptual side. I think it’s more exciting. João is really good with digital art. He practices the materiality and form in real life. I like that a lot and I think that might be happening soon in my work.
SCAD: Why did you choose SCAD?
NP: I looked at the rankings of art schools. SCAD was one of the best and has different locations, which was important. Because I live in Asia, Hong Kong is closest. So why not choose SCAD when I can get an American education within Asia?
SCAD: What are your plans after graduation?
NP: If possible, I will stay in Hong Kong. It’s a growing place for art. In Indonesia, it’s super hard to see art because shows are located on different sides of the island. In Jakarta, there are some galleries, but the art center is in Jogja. Here in Hong Kong, you can just hop on the MTR or hop on the bus and see everything. Even in Central at the Pedder Building, for example, you can see at least five different major galleries. The most feasible option for me is to stay in Hong Kong, but not limit myself to other options.
Given her unlimited potential, it’s safe to bet this isn’t the last time that we’ll see Novita at Art Basel.
Whitney Yoerger is a special projects manager overseeing collaborative projects with external partners at Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong. She is also a writer, always in search of stories about talented students and alumni. Follow her on Twitter @whityoerger.