Emily Colucci, Filthy Dreams. That’s how I signed the guestbook for Carrie Schneider’s exhibition I don’t know her at CHART. I don’t usually bother to write in exhibition guestbooks. The only major exception is the book for Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition in which a placard assured us fanatics that he would receive it. Naturally, I had some thoughts to share about discovering Joan Crawford’s memoir My Way of Life in his library. Typically, though, I prefer to float around exhibitions like a ghost. Don’t notice me. Don’t talk to me. I’m not even here. But, when given a chance to mock and amuse myself, I’ll take it. As I did at CHART when I scribbled my name and this website’s moniker with two obnoxious underlines below a person who made sure to also include her ArtForum credit right beside her name. In fact, I was so inspired that I’ve continued to represent Filthy Dreams in several other guestbooks since.
This is to say, I’m no stranger to acting more than a tad shady, particularly when confronting deep attachments to art world institutions and imagined power. It’s gone beyond silent scrawling. On several occasions, I’ve pretended not to know certain highfalutin art types who came off as thinking way too highly of themselves. And most of those times, I did so without even considering it first, a kneejerk reaction to pretentiousness.
I don’t know her.
Of course, my subtly insulting bad behavior pales in comparison to diva-par-excellence and Christmas incarnate Mariah Carey who turned shade into an art form with just a smile, a shake of her head, a wiggle of her bejeweled earring, and that now-famous phrase: “I don’t know her,” referencing rival superstar Jennifer Lopez. This brief clip from a German television interview in 2001 could have been easily forgotten. Lost to the ages like most pre-YouTube media. Instead, it has been memed, GIF-ed, and shared across the Internet, across the globe, and across time. Forever preserved and remembered as an achievement of gleeful refusal of acknowledgment. It’s this moment that Carrie Schneider takes as inspiration for her current show. Though titled after Mimi’s iconic statement, we don’t hear Mariah utter it once within the exhibition space. Instead, Schneider uses Mariah’s instantly recognizable image from that interview—her wavy golden hair and mischievous grin—to delve into its repetition, omnipresence, and infamy. “I thought,” as Lee Conell writes in a small publication released alongside the exhibition, “it’s a power move.”
As a fellow obsessive significantly invested in idol worship (see the Nick Cave reference at the beginning of this review), I was attracted to Schneider’s show like a moth to a flame and was surprised to find a relatively reserved installation. Upon entering the blacked-out door, the hot whirr of a projector immediately welcomed me into the gallery. The main gallery space only displays two works, primarily a 4-minute 16mm film of disembodied hands, presumably the artist’s, holding a phone on which replays the couple-second clip of Carey shaking her head, interspersed with blue taped line breaks and scratchy, scrambled effects, partially achieved through animating still photographs. Rather than the recognizable audio from the original interview, this film, also titled I don’t know her, features a soundtrack by artist and musician Cecilia Lopez who spliced together Carey’s songs “Fantasy,” “Honey,” and “Obsessed,” along with a cacophony of disjointed dissonant noise that further emphasizes the fractured nature of the film. Catching snippets here and there of Carey’s voice as if rapidly turning the radio dial (remember those?) through stations only playing Mariah, the soundtrack reminded me more of the strange cymbal-driven dead air of Haroon Mirza’s Step Siren, on view in The Horror Show! at London’s Somerset House, than Mariah’s whistle notes. Behind this film’s projection hangs a double portrait of Mariah, More Auras (I don’t know her). With various distortions and alterations made in camera, the photo looks as if Luther Price traded his fixation with death and decay for images of fame repeated to the point of near annihilation.
At first, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed by the installation of just these two works, wondering: Is this it? Where was the Mimi maximalism I so desired? Mariah certainly invites us to be more than a little extra—to dive into pools from mansion balconies and flee on jet skis—so why the restraint? Thankfully, these questions were dismissed by the superb work installed in the gallery’s basement space, which not only satisfied my need for excess but managed to tie the entire exhibition together thematically, as well as possibly literally as the piece extends to around 400 feet long.
That work, entitled Voice’s Owner (I don’t know her), looks like a mountain of Mariah, almost monstrously so, a jumbled web of photographic prints as if a printer went rogue and kept spitting out pic after pic of the singer. Viewed from afar, coming down the stairs, it reminded me immediately of Robert Morris’s Untitled (Tangle). Not that I could instantly land on the pile of industrial felt that I was remembering, which led me to google absurd combinations like “MoMA heap” to figure out what the hell I was trying to recall. But my shit memory doesn’t mean the reference was misplaced. Schneider’s Voice Owner (I don’t know her) mimics the shape of Untitled (Tangle) with photographic ribbons looped over a wall bracket that gives it almost a human physicality before tumbling down into a, well, heap. More than merely a maniacal attentiveness to materiality like Morris, Schneider’s endless photographic scroll rewards us with image too. Mariah. Mariah. Mariah. Over and over again, Mariah’s beaming face, that shining drop earring, and her wide-eyed performed ignorance. Schneider also captures her own hands—sometimes with painted red nails and other times, bare—grasping the phone that projects Mariah’s image in a kind of ritualistic reverence, a move which echoes Narcissister’s long-nailed ticky-tacking over ripped-out magazine spreads in some of her films. There, Narcissister strokes the idealistic image of femininity sold to us that nobody can ever fully inhabit (unless, of course, you don the same mannequin mask she does). Here, Schneider does something similar, caressing Mariah’s image, as well as its means of dissemination on the phone.
There is a palpable too-muchness about Voice’s Owner (I don’t know her), which is exactly what I wanted earlier in the show. It’s as if celebrity fixation was made physical—those intrusive thoughts leading us back to Mariah again and again and again. Interestingly, the first half of the piece’s title implies that we should be confronted with the real, the voice’s owner. But instead, we’re given nothing—all surface—just as Mariah gives us nothing. I don’t know her. As Carmen Maria Machado writes in her essay “Cold Shoulder” in the corresponding publication, “She pays no heed. She gives no mind. She does not budge an inch. She will not hear of it.” What we are given, more than some essential Mariah-ness, is endless versions of Mariah’s “I don’t know her” clip that lays bare its viral spread across the Internet, from YouTube to Livejournal to countless Twitter reacts, often in the form of GIFs, animated much like Schneider’s video.
The gallery’s press release connects this exhibition with Schneider’s previous shows such as Revenge Body at Candice Madey in which Schneider used the images of two other famous faces that, like Carey, also share part of Scheider’s name: Sissy Spacek as Carrie in Brian De Palma’s film and Romy Schneider as Nadine in L’important C’est d’Aimer. I don’t know her offers another kind of revenge body, a continual reanimation and proliferation of shade. Though not as pyromaniacal as Carrie, Mariah’s “I don’t know her” is still an effective, cutting weapon. It’s also a piece of media that is so ubiquitous that it’s become inescapable. Or at least it has if you’re familiar with pop culture in the past 20+ years. I mentioned the notorious Mariah clip to my mother who had no clue what I was talking about. So perhaps it’s generational. Regardless, for those of us perpetually online between 2001 and 2023, when Mariah sang, “Boy, don’t you know you can’t escape me,” in “Always Be My Baby,” she meant it.