"The verdict: For an exhibit all about touch, the viewer leaves rather empty handed."
The exhibit, which filled all 46,000 feet of the UW's Henry Art Gallery with the sensational work of one woman, was opened to the press on an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in October, in advance of its premiere with the public that Monday.
I walked in and spoke with the communications director who confirmed my publication and presence, and ticked my name off her list. Though this moment should have confirmed I was in my rightful place, when I saw Indigo Trigg-Hauger, The Daily's resident sex columnist and preternaturally talented art critic, I immediately lost my composure, and began to second-guess myself. I checked through my email messages but couldn't seem to find the right one that would ensure me the review was mine.
"Danielle," I texted my arts editor. "I'm supposed to be doing this, right? Why is Indigo here?"
"She's there for some other publication," Danielle responded.
One problem resolved, but another manifested: I didn't actually know Indigo. We'd never met or talked or even been in the same room. I just recognized her face, from her old mug shot for the paper, taken years ago, before she chopped off her hair, and from her Facebook profile picture, an artistically out-of-focus snap of a Polaroid picture, which appeared in my newsfeed frequently due to the sheer number of our mutual friends.
Then as now, Indigo seemed open and amiable, but I was hesitant to approach her, because she also seemed way too cool. She writes about sex and wears galactic cat leggings and, at that time, had just returned from a year abroad in Norway, where she learned foreign languages and customs and met her cool, older grad school-attending boyfriend.
I watched her and an equally intimidating blonde man, carrying a book and furiously scribbling notes as he made his way through the gallery, as they descended down the Henry's sloped hallway and into the first room of the exhibit. Indigo stopped at strange antique scissors while the man moved a bit further into the room to access the contents of a different glass case.
I saw my opportunity and approached the worn and rusty scissors, inhaling sharply, forcibly exhaling my question: "You're Indigo right?"
In the months that followed, Indigo shared with me her stories of living abroad, the scars left by the trials and tribulations of travel, as well as the things she'd learned and the unforgettable experiences she'd had. It was in large part because of her that I applied to university exchange, and why I'll be leaving for a six-month sojourn in Amsterdam next year.
Born in Morocco, Indigo's family returned to the United States soon after her birth, and she spent the first 10 years of her life in the greater Seattle area. She attended the Waldorf school in Capitol Hill, which she said fostered a love of art for art's sake. She keeps a journal full of musings, Polaroids, and watercolors as a direct result of the school's focus on creating for yourself, for the act of expression, and not for the eyes of others or in the pursuit of perfection.
When she was 10, her family decided to move to India. The transition from Bright Water School to the American school in India might seem traumatic, but Indigo was more excited about the move than her parents. She enjoyed her time abroad; it was her return, three years later, that proved problematic. Trapped in a public school room in Kirkland for hours on end, she experienced "reverse culture shock" so deeply she became depressed.
This is part of what drove her abroad again, a few years later, for a year of study in Switzerland. But of course, wherever you go, there you are, whether that was Switzerland, the United States, or Norway.
I met Indigo after her return from a year at the University of Oslo and my return from an ill-fated trip to French Polynesia. She was coming out of a period of intense self-reflection, while I was still mired in my thoughts. She was moving forward, making plans to return to Norway permanently. I was a few steps behind, unprepared for action, stunned and temporarily stunted by my experiences.
It was through our conversations I realized that other people who travel, extensively and successfully, also feel beaten down by circumstance, and feel alienated by cultural, linguistic, and other barriers that they feel isolate them from the people around them. Indigo, too, got irritated when she went hungry because she forgot shops closed on Sundays, and she cried when she had to seek medical attention alone. But she kept going.
At a time when I was considering shutting myself off from certain experiences, Indigo convinced me that wasn't necessary, or right. It wouldn't prevent me from hurting; it'd only prevent me from growing. I learned that she was and remains open not out of naiveté or a repression of the small traumas accrued along the way, but out of a conviction that openness is essential to her success as a person, and to her ability to recognize that same humanity in others, whatever continent she's on.
Indigo left Seattle in early April, this time likely for the long haul. While she was settling into her boyfriend's apartment in Copenhagen, "the common SENSE" cleared out, the Henry was scrubbed clean, and new works were installed.
When we returned to the gallery this week, in the midst of Indigo's six-week sojourn in the states, we found Ann Hamilton's giant windmills, once swirling in open space, replaced by a dense balloon room, 14-foot deep, from the mind of Martin Creed.
"Work No. 360" was like a existentially anxious adult's reimagining of the Chuck E. Cheese ball pit; somehow mimicking the nature of navigating the deep ocean, forcing gallery-goers to push through the forces in front of them, following the light to the exit as rays ebb and flow beneath the shifting sediments of balloons and against the walls boxing us into the latex sea.
She forced her way through. I followed in her wake.
Sitting on the patio of a pizza parlor at lunch, we talked about the responsibility opinionated people have to be receptive to new ideas and perspectives, especially when the person in question is vocal about their opinions. Indigo is often told she has an opinion on everything (she does) and, like a Hello Kitty-adorned artillery weapon, is always ready to fire off a thoughtful opinion on sex or sexuality or feminism, whether it's in the course of every day conversation, or in a 500-word opinion piece for a media outlet.
Though she shares her thoughts on a million and one topics with complete conviction, she tries to ensure her mind remains malleable, that she is receptive to new experiences and stories and facts as she encounters them. She knows, for example, that the brand of middle-class white feminism she is most familiar with is privileged, and therefore blind to certain issues of intersectionality. For this reason, she seeks to incorporate the perspectives of feminists of color in her work.
Indigo also takes time to reflect on her growth as a writer, thinker, and person. She has been publishing her opinions from an early age, and while she thinks many of her articles stand the test of time, she also recognizes that as she's grown, so have her ideas about the world.
"I'm trying to be like Taylor Swift," Indigo said, "The greatest success story of our time."
T-Swifty, now 25 years old, started writing songs as a teenager and has publicly reflected on some of the problematic ideas her younger self perpetuated, Indigo explained. Swift's unusually trite and terrible 2010 track "Better Than Revenge" included a controversial chorus supposedly aimed at actress Camilla Belle: "She’s an actress, whoa/ But she’s better known for the things that she does/ On the mattress, whoa." She later apologized for the lyric, has since publicly claimed a feminist identity, and successfully rebranded herself as the primary arms dealer in the recent global escalation of girl power.
Indigo's journals, formerly spaces solely for artistic expression, became hybrid texts, part canvas, part lab notebook. The notebooks continue to provide catharsis, but they also serve as a firsthand account of all the people she's been since she first started journaling at the age of nine. Indigo knows some people (myself included, to a degree) who are convinced the opinion they have now is the opinion they've always had. By collapsing these timelines, they cease to suffer growing pains, but, she argues, also cease to grow. Indigo has chosen to revel in the pain of these past lives in change for the humility such recognition provides her. She's been wrong in the past and is awaiting the moment she's wrong again.
"You're Indigo right?"
She nodded, seemingly bemused by my explanation of how I knew her, and open to the experience of circumnavigating a curious and cavernous contemporary art exhibit with an overeager stranger.
She introduced me to the man, her Norwegian boyfriend Sigurd, and we talked about the paper and the art and living abroad. Later that afternoon, we accosted our shared hero, Jen Graves, The Stranger's Pulitzer Prize-nominated art critic, who talked to us about our careers and later read our reviews of the exhibit and provided feedback.
When we parted ways that afternoon, we both know just how cute our meet-cute really was. That night, she called her dad and told him she was famous. I called my mom and told her I proved the "stranger danger" directive wrong, and was excited for this newfound friendship.
That weekend, I wrote my review, still confounded by the exhibit; irritated, as always, with things I didn't completely understand. Indigo, meanwhile, wrote about exploration and discovery, about the artist's ability to facilitate confusion, about the importance of seemingly incomprehensible subjects.
Our reviews revealed very different perceptions, but our summations intertwined in a noteworthy way. I claimed I left empty handed, and Indigo stated that "what you find depends on you."