Carrie Schneider: I don’t know her @Chart

JTF (just the facts): A total of 2 photographic works and 1 video installation, shown in the main gallery space, up a few stairs toward to office area, and in the downstairs gallery.

The show includes:

  • 1 chromogenic photograph, 2023, sized roughly 52×40 inches, unique
  • 1 set of 2 chromogenic photographs, 2023, 20×4800 inches, unique
  • 1 16mm film (with sound by Cecilia Lopez), 2023, 4 minutes, in an edition of 3+2AP

(Installation and detail shots below.)

A short catalog has been published by the gallery to coincide with the exhibition. With essays/texts by Ogla Dekalo, Carmen Maria Machado, Abigail DeVille, Aristilde Kirby, Emily Mello, Lee Connell, and Shayla Lawz. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: Carrie Schneider’s current show at Chart is very much the conceptual sibling of her show last year at Candice Madey (here), the two together creating a bookended pairing of related ideas. In that earlier show, Schneider applied her expressively reworked aesthetic to two of her celebrity namesakes – Sissy Spacek, as seen in the gore-dripped horror film persona of Carrie, and Romy Schneider, as seen in a more glamorous still from the 1974 film The Most Important Thing: Love. This show finds the artist picking up that same idea of inhabiting namesakes and taking it one step further, using a short video clip of Mariah Carey (yet another Carrie) as her starting point.

As a reminder, Schneider’s process begins with a large-scale hand built camera that holds wide rolls of photographic paper. Within the camera, she reinterprets her visual raw material via multiple exposures, flared light, taped overlaps, and other arrangements and misalignments, and then in the darkroom, she uses a range of chemical washes, drips, and brushed areas to intentionally amplify and disrupt the imagery further. The resulting works are vibrantly chaotic and intense, with colored image fragments tussling with physical interventions in a swirling improvisational dance. As she works, individual impressions are connected on the paper roll in a long sequence, not unlike the jittering frames of a film strip. Her finished works have taken the form of single images roughly sliced from the roll and framed, as well as longer stretches of works from the paper roll hung in the gallery as tumbling ribbons of folded and piled-up imagery.

This show is built around a short video clip of Mariah Carey answering questions from an interviewer. Carey smiles and comments on various contemporaries, and is eventually asked about Jennifer Lopez; it is at this point that her smile fades and then quickly re-hardens, and she shakes her head and responds “I don’t know her”. The original encounter took place in 2001, but the clip took on a life of its own in 2016, becoming a GIF/meme used to express a sneakily sharp kind of indirect shade – by bluntly and unabashedly saying she doesn’t know a person she clearly does, Carey’s dismissive fake shrug becomes a perfect reverse insult. She defiantly refuses to acknowledge the obvious, thereby disassociating herself from J.Lo with implausibly incontestable finality.

Schneider uses this clip as artistic raw material, and doesn’t ever actually show us Carey speaking those fateful words. Instead, she centers in on the fleeting few moments when her expression changes and she shakes her head, her face shuffling through a series of smiles and non-smiles in quick succession. These still frames (with the artist’s hand variously holding the video on her phone, with alternately painted and unpainted fingernails) then enter Schneider’s world of expressive rework, the faces becoming layered and overlapped, connected with strips of blue and yellow tape, or dissolved into more abstract swaths of color. Carey hypnotically repeats again and again, her smile becoming a mask, which the artist obsessively assembles and reassembles with different surroundings, moods, and effects.

The finished works from this project take shape in three forms. The show includes one chopped scrap of imagery, with Carey’s face doubled into an echo and the colors blown out into flares of yellow and orange, and a more sculptural scroll of imagery hung over a pole embedded in the gallery wall, creating a two-sided cascade which gathers on the floor. This work is much more iterative, capturing the process of Schneider transitioning from one frame to the next, or from one impression to the next, with the tape linking the discrete scenes together. When shown as an extended ribbon, Carey’s eyes peek out here and there in between the twisting folds, creating a complex spatial presence that engages the viewer from various angles and vantage points, always smiling and politely rejecting our persistent need to know more.

These resolutely physical photographic works essentially form a backdrop to the main focus of the show, a 16mm film comprised of Schneider’s individual frames connected together. As seen in the stills above, the film covers the same ground, watching as Carey listens to the question, firms up, and then fake smiles as she refuses to answer. When strung together, Schneider’s frames aggregate into a video that seems to stutter along, with the artist’s hand jumping back and forth and the various collaged negatives and painted washes intruding here and there. This visual crackling effect is then amplified by the soundtrack, a soundscape crafted by Cecilia Lopez from fragments of various Carey hits and vocal riffs; when played over the clacking sound of the film projector, the effect is looping and repetitive, to the point of near abstraction, with samples rhythmically overlaid and chopped together.

Since this is a relatively short film (at just 4 minutes), it loops and returns fairly quickly, asking us to unpack Carey’s minute movements and reactions, and Schneider’s engagement with them, again and again. Seen three or four times consecutively, the film becomes meditative, with our ability to anticipate Carey’s grimace and her resolute rebuttal allowing us to notice the even subtler changes taking place in her face and attitude in that short snippet of time. It’s a strangely plastic and unexpectedly triumphant sequence, and Schneider has broken it down and reassembled it in a way that highlights both its fragility and its strength.

Whether these recent works by Schneider can be called indirect self-portraits of some kind, and whether Schneider will continue the series to include more namesakes, isn’t known, but the three women featured in the project so far have offered powerful facets of feminine identity for Schneider to play with. Like Andy Warhol’s silkscreened portraits from Polaroids, Schneider’s process-driven investigations of personality have turned recognizable faces into something more elemental and atmospheric. They’re not studies of celebrity, but of the more subtle facets of agency and self, where the precise tone of a glance or a smile can deliver more complexity and friction than we might ever have imagined.

Collector’s POV: Like the works in the Candice Madey show, the single framed work here is priced at $16000 and the larger billowing installation is priced at $35000. Schneider’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Mark Steinmetz, ATL

Mark Steinmetz, ATL

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Nazraeli Press (here). Cloth hardback with tipped in cover photograph, 10.5 x 12 inches, 80 pages, with 63 duotone photographs. Includes an ... Read on.

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