Chris Cunningham is a British video artist. He was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1970 and grew up in Lakenheath, Suffolk.
Cunningham has primarily directed music videos for ambient music and electronica acts such as Autechre and Aphex Twin. He has also created art installations and directed short movies. He was approached to direct a movie version of the cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, but nothing came of early discussions. In the 2000s, Cunningham began doing music production work. He has also designed album artwork for a variety of musicians.
The video collection The Work of Director Chris Cunningham was released in November 2004 as part of the Directors Label set. This DVD includes selected highlights from 1995-2000.
After seeing Cunningham's work on the 1995 film version of Judge Dredd, Stanley Kubrick head-hunted Cunningham to design and supervise animatronic tests of the central robot child character in his version of the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Cunningham worked for over a year on the film before leaving to pursue a career as a director.
Earlier work in film included model-making, prosthetic make-up and concept illustrations for Hardware and Dust Devil for director Richard Stanley; work on Nightbreed for Clive Barker; and on Alien for David Fincher. Between 1990 and 1992, he contributed the occasional cover painting and strip to Judge Dredd Megazine, working under the pseudonym "Chris Halls"; Halls is his stepfather's surname.
Cunningham has had close ties to Warp Records since his first production for Autechre. Videos for Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker" are perhaps his best known. His video for Björk's "All Is Full of Love" won multiple awards, including an MTV music video award for Breakthrough Video and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. It was also the first ever music video to win a Gold Pencil at the D&AD Awards. It can still be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His video for Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" was nominated for the "Best Video" award at the Brit Awards 2000. He also directed Madonna's "Frozen" video which became an international hit and won the award for Best Special Effects at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards. Cunningham also came out of a seven-year hiatus from making music videos to direct the video for "Sheena Is a Parasite" by The Horrors.
His video installation Flex was first shown in 2000 at the Royal Academy of Arts, and subsequently at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery and other art galleries. Flex was commissioned by the Anthony d'Offay Gallery for the Apocalypse: Beauty & Horror in Contemporary Art exhibition curated by Norman Rosenthal and Max Wigram at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2000.
The Anthony d'Offay Gallery also commissioned Monkey Drummer, a 2½ minute piece intended for exhibition as a companion to Flex at the 2000 Apocalypse exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts: however, the piece was not finished in time. In it an automaton with nine appendages and the head of a monkey plays the drums to "Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount", the 10th track on Aphex Twin's 2001 album drukqs. Monkey Drummer debuted as part of Cunningham's installation at the 49th International Exhibition of Art at the 2001 Venice Biennale, which consisted of a loop of Monkey Drummer, Flex, and his video for Björk's "All Is Full of Love". In 2002 both Flex and Monkey Drummer were exhibited by 5th Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, in an exhibition curated by Artist/Curator Paul Murnaghan,
In 2007, an excerpt from Flex was shown in the Barbican's exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now curated by Martin Kemp, Marina Wallace and Joanne Bernstein. alongside other pieces by Bacon, Klimt, Rembrandt, Rodin and Picasso.
In 2005, Cunningham released the short film Rubber Johnny as a DVD accompanied by a book of photographs and drawings. Rubber Johnny, a six-minute experimental short film cut to a soundtrack by Aphex Twin, remixed by Cunningham was shot between 2001 and 2004. Shot on DV night-vision, it was made in Cunningham's own time as a home movie of sorts, and took three and half years of weekends to complete. The Telegraph called it "like a Looney Tunes short for a generation raised on video nasties and rave music".
During this period Cunningham also made another short film for Warp Films, Spectral Musicians, which remains unreleased. The short film was edited to music by Squarepusher, My Fucking Sound, from the album Go Plastic and a piece called Mutilation Colony, which was written especially for the short and was released on the EP Do You Know Squarepusher.
Cunningham has directed a handful of commercials for companies including Gucci, PlayStation, Levis, Telecom Italia, Nissan and Orange.
In 2004/2005, Cunningham took a sabbatical from filmmaking to learn about music production and recording and to develop his own music projects.
In December 2007 Cunningham produced two tracks, "Three Decades" and "Primary Colours", for Primary Colours, the second album by The Horrors. In the summer of 2008, due to scheduling conflicts with his feature film script writing he could not work on the rest of the album which was subsequently recorded by Geoff Barrow from Portishead.
In 2008, he produced and arranged a new version of 'I Feel Love' for the Gucci commercial that he also directed. He travelled to Nashville to work with Donna Summer to record a brand new vocal for it.
Chris Cunningham Live:
In 2005, Cunningham played a 45-minute audio visual piece performed live in Tokyo and Osaka in front of 30,000+ fans over the two nights at Japan's premier electronic music event Electraglide. These performances evolved into Chris Cunningham Live, a 55 minute long performance piece combining original and remixed music and film. It features remixed, unreleased and brand new videos and music dynamically edited together into a new live piece spread over three screens. The sound accompanying these images includes Cunningham's first publicly performed compositions interspersed with his remixes of other artist's work. Chris Cunningham Live debuted as one of the headline attractions at Warp 20 in Paris on 8 May 2009 with other performances scheduled at festivals in UK, and a number of European cities later in the year. Chris Cunningham Live continued in June 2011, with performances in London, Barcelona, and Sydney, Australia.
Cunningham has created photography and cover artwork for various people including Björk's "All Is Full of Love", Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" and "Come to Daddy".
In 2008, Cunningham produced a fashion shoot for Dazed & Confused using Grace Jones as a model to create "Nubian versions" of Rubber Johnny. In an interview for BBC's "The Culture Show", it was suggested that the collaboration may expand into a video project.
In November 2008, Cunningham followed on with another photoshoot for Vice Magazine.
In 2000, Cunningham and cyberpunk author William Gibson began work on the script for Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer. However, because Neuromancer was due to be a big budget studio film, it is rumoured that Cunningham pulled out due to being a first time director without final cut approval. He also felt that too much of the original book's ideas had been cannibalised by other recent films.
On 18 November 2004, in the FAQ on the William Gibson Board, Gibson was asked:
Q: Is it true there's a movie of Neuromancer in the works?
A: Perpetually, it seems, and going on a quarter of a century now. The most recently rumoured version, to have been directed by Chris Cunningham, is now definitely not happening.
In an August 1999 Spike Magazine interview, Gibson stated "He (Chris) was brought to my attention by someone else. We were told, third-hand, that he was extremely wary of the Hollywood process, and wouldn't return calls. But someone else told us that Neuromancer had been his Wind In The Willows, that he'd read it when he was a kid. I went to London and we met." Gibson is also quoted in the article as saying "Chris is my own 100 per cent personal choice...My only choice. The only person I've met who I thought might have a hope in hell of doing it right. I went back to see him in London just after he'd finished the Bjork video, and I sat on a couch beside this dead sex little Bjork robot, except it was wearing Aphex Twin's head. We talked."
It is rumoured that the character of Damien Pease in Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition was based on Cunningham, with the character's apartment featuring a female robot which had appeared in one of Cunningham's videos.
Development funding was in place for Cunningham to direct and co-write his first feature film for Warp Films, to whom he was at the time committed "for all future full-length film projects." He has since left Warp Films to set up his own production company 'CC Co' to produce his films independently.
Cunningham is married to Warpaint's bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg.
"Second Bad Vilbel" (1996) video for Autechre,
"Back With The Killer Again" (1996) video for The Auteurs,
"Light Aircraft on Fire" (1996) video for The Auteurs,
"Fighting Fit" (1996) video for Gene,
"Another Day" (1996) video for Lodestar,
"Space Junkie" (1996) video for Holy Barbarians,
"36 Degrees" (1996) video for Placebo,
"Personally" (1997) video for 12 Rounds,
"Jesus Coming in for the Kill" (1997) video for Life's Addiction,
"The Next Big Thing" (1997) video for Jesus Jones,
"Tranquillizer" (1997) video for Geneva,
"No More Talk" (1997) video for Dubstar,
"Something to Say" (1997) video for Jocasta,
"Come to Daddy" (1997) video for Aphex Twin,
"Sport is Free" (1997) - commercial for ITV,
"Fetish" (1998) - commercial for NUS,
"Clip Clop" (1998) commercial for XFM London,
"Only You" (1998) video for Portishead,
"Frozen" (1998) video for Madonna,
"Come On My Selector" (1998) video for Squarepusher,
"Engine" (1999) commercial for Nissan. Featuring music by Boards of Canada,
"All Is Full of Love" (1999) video for Björk,
"Windowlicker" (1999) video for Aphex Twin,
"Afrika Shox" (1999) video for Leftfield and Afrika Bambaataa,
"Mental Wealth" (1999) commercial for Sony PlayStation,
"Photocopier" (unreleased) commercial for Levi's,
"Flex" (2000) video installation. Featuring music by Aphex Twin,
"Monkey Drummer" (2001) video installation. Featuring "Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels mount" from Aphex Twin's album Drukqs,
"Up and Down" (2002) - commercial for Levi's,
"Photo Messaging" (2003) commercial for Orange,
"Rubber Johnny" (2005) featuring "Afx237 V7" from Aphex Twin's album Drukqs,
"Sheena Is a Parasite" (2006) video for The Horrors,
"Gucci Flora" (2009) commercial for Gucci Perfume,
"New York Is Killing Me (Chris Cunningham Remix)" (2010) video for Gil Scott-Heron,
"Jaqapparatus 1" (2012) robotic art installation performance for Audi City London.,
"Love Is To Die" Multimedia documentary for the album release of Warpaint (2014).
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license