It’s 8 o’clock, and Annie Cabigting is being mobbed. This has been the state of the artist’s world since she arrived at Finale Art File six hours earlier for the opening of her solo show Museum Watching. All the other galleries in La Fuerza Compound have exhibitions on tonight—complete with overflowing booze, pizza, and live bands—but hers is easily the busiest, with an omnipresent crowd of visitors snapping photos of her distinctively reflexive paintings of audiences viewing artworks.
“I’ve gone around, and this is the most bongga,” says her daughter Una Ilarde. We’re sitting in the Tall Gallery, virtually unrecognizable thanks to the artist’s collaboration with art advisor Miguel Rosales. The wide, open space has been closed off by some heavy drapes and a newly constructed wall. Couches and marble-topped tables fill the space, and even the opulent frames (custom-made in Pampanga) of Cabigting’s voyeuristic paintings match those of the artworks depicted in them. It all looks and feels like we’ve been transported into the wing of some European art museum.
“And that’s exactly what I was hoping for,” says Cabigting, stealing a moment between greeting friends and well-wishers to sip at her bright pink (unfortunately non-alcoholic) drink. The entire space was conceptualized around a painting she created for Art Fair 2017—the only artwork in Museum Watching with no observer and no painting depicted, with a wrapped canvas standing in for the piece being restored. “After I made that work, na-inspire ako,” says the artist. “What if I make a space to hang the works? An environment that takes you away from where we are now, like a museum, or maybe some old villa in Italy. I wanted a different experience, a different dimension and emotion when you look at the art piece. It’s not just the regular white walls. It’s like theater.”
“I wanted a different experience, a different dimension and emotion when you look at the art piece. It’s not just the regular white walls. It’s like theater.”
And perhaps that is the best word for it, with the space becoming the setting for Cabigting’s own hobby of people watching. Many, the artist observes, subconsciously mimic the stance of the person in the painting. Linger in the gallery long enough, and you may even catch someone attempting to move around the figure to try and get a closer look at the artwork depicted. The interaction that occurs isn’t just the subject of Cabigting’s work, but a situation that we, as the actual viewers, mirror.
“What happens to a work hanging on the wall when there’s no one to look at it?” asks the artist. “It’s just an object, right? But when you put in an audience who appreciate it or hate it, whatever the emotion is, then there’s the dialogue. That’s what I’m trying to capture.” The pieces that make up Museum Watching stir up a sense of self-awareness in the viewer, asking us to consider where we stand in this frame of things and how we view art itself. Cabigting selects images that strike her—her own photographs from her stints watching at the people who take the time to visit museums, or those of friends—and leaves it to the work to tell the audience a story.
“There is art between the object, and the person,” says Cabigting. “For an artist, art happens when I’m creating the work. So when it’s away from my studio, it evolves and it becomes a visual for whatever emotion you want to get from a piece—the art is in the emotion and the appreciation.”
‘Museum Watching’ by Annie Cabigting runs until March 28 at Finale Art File, Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Ave., Makati.