"Many people think my works are scary. Personally, I find them hilarious. Spice Girls videos are scary to me."
His mind is the birthplace of many of the most intriguing images of the last decade. Six-year-old kids with adult features terrifying a London suburb; the most famous pop singer in the world morphing into a flock of black crows; trip-hop divas hovering over a dark alley, moving as if they were submerged in a water tank; a man running through the streets of New York, his limbs falling to the ground and shattering as if they were made of china. . . his name is Chris Cunningham, he's only thirty years old, and according to artists, media theorists, and alternative TV lovers, he's the best director of music videos in the world.
Born near London and raised on an American military base, Cunningham started working for a Special Effects company when he was just sixteen years old. After sculpting and building models for movies like "Nightbreed" and "Alien 3" (where he worked as main sculptor of the famous monster designed by HR Giger), his skills caught the eye of a film legend: Stanley Kubrick. For almost two years, Cunningham designed and built robots for Kubrick's "AI", an ambitious science-fiction movie that the late director left unfinished in order to shoot his posthumous work, "Eyes Wide Shut". When AI was eventually put on hold, he decided to quit special effects and start making music videos.
After directing many low-budget promos mainly for groups in the British Electronic scene, Cunningham shot in 1997 the video that made him the hottest of the new names in the medium. "Come to Daddy", a disturbing piece for acclaimed techno artist Aphex Twin reinvented all the rules of the genre made popular by MTV. Groundbreaking, arid and tremendously demanding for the viewer, Cunningham becomes after "Come to Daddy" the most requested director by bands and singers from all styles. However, his determination to work only for artists he is interested in musically, such as Portishead, Squarepusher, Autechre or Leftfield has allowed him to stay away from the most commercial names in the music industry, with the only exception of "Frozen", the clip that announced in 1998 Madonna's conversion to Electronica.
In a medium that has often been accused of aesthetic uniformity, Cunningham's success lies in his completely original and unique style. Starting from very recognisable visual and literary influences (Blade Runner, Cronenberg, Lynch , JG Ballard ), the British director depicts in a very special way all his thematic and visual obsessions: icy atmospheres, oppressive urban landscapes, cold colours and industrial shapes in the background of stories that subvert the iconography of fantastic and science-fiction films through its weird sense of humour and a typically postmodernist distance towards represented objects.
Cunnigham keeps away from the mercantilist conception of the music video as "just a TV spot for a song", and understands his pieces as a symbiosis between the work of two creators, musician and filmmaker. "With me it's purely reacting with the sound, I find that it's sound that activates my imagination. I spent my entire childhood laying by my dad's speakers listening to music, with my eye's closed picturing things, so I've almost got a library of connections that my brain makes with sound."
Besides being the peak of his career in the music video form, "All is full of Love" means the end of a period of his work. After a short incursion in advertising with a well-known spot for the Playstation videogame system, the director is about to arrive to the big screen with two radically different projects. The first one is a surreal, intimate drama about teenagers he has been writing for the last five years. However, his most expected work is non other than his announced film adaptation of Neuromancer, the contemporary Science-Fiction classic written by William Gibson. Produced by Seven Art Pictures and currently in pre-production stage, the movie will be written by Gibson himself (who defines Cunningham as "a genius, the perfect man for the job") and scored by Richard D. James, also known as Aphex Twin.
José Luis de Vicente
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2000 catalog.
Chris Cunningham: Director file
Autechre Second Bad Vilbel (1996)
Placebo 36 Degrees (1996)
Aphex Twin Come to Daddy (1997)
Squarepusher Come on my Selector (1997)
Madonna Frozen (1998)
Portishead Only You (1998)
Aphex Twin Windowlicker (1999)
Leftfield Africa Shox (1999)
Playstation Mental Wealth (1999)