In our second installment of Has it Leaked Curated, we dive into the music videos by Aoife McArdle. Some of you might recognize her video for Jon Hopkins first single from 2013’s best album, Immunity. I was first stunned by her cinematography, and the way she pushed colors in even the most dark and harsh scenes. But McArdle is also a unique director, who manages to find color in the dark backlit shadows, the warmth in the grey, harsh, Irish slums, or the souls of an American trailer park drama. She’s a talent that proves, yet again, that music videos can be more than promotional material.
Northern Ireland’s Aoife McArdle (pronounced EE – fuh) works projects ranging from minute long arbitrary art pieces to clean energy advertisements to Bryan Ferry music videos. It is vibrant, deliberate, and dynamic, to be sure, but some of its most appealing traits lie not in its competency of vision and technical execution, but rather in its authentic relationship with place.
Her home land shines through her work often, of course. Wilkinson’s Half Light, a drum and bass tune, drops some pointed reminders of its physical setting: a giant Irish flag with military silhouettes; blazing Irish accents in dialogue scenes; lush and solemn grey-green sunrise landscapes. In this case, Ireland is a down home setting for a retake on a traditional boy-meets-girl story, rinsed through a narcotic fuelled night at the club.
Here, location lends a warm and familiar angle, though melancholy tinges show through. A video for a drum and bass track almost demands an Everyperson kind of approach – underground dance music of all kinds is at its heart a passion for shared experience, and in the case of a genre like drum and bass, its deep roots in the UK music scene justify a uniquely UK take.
Many of her pieces reflect other locales too. A triptych of videos for James Vincent McMorrow is considerably less warm and fuzzy in tone than Half Light, and this darkness of material and storytelling is reflected in the barren yet beautiful American Southwest. Without dialogue, viewers piece together a tragic death through poignant images peppered through the three videos: in Glacier, an older woman trudges down a highway at sunrise, makeup smeared, heels breaking; in Red Dust, a young woman shaves her head wearing her father’s clothes, then walks naked into a desert lake; in Cavalier, a young man stumbles through some small town strip joints and liquor stores, alternating manic rage with fiercely determined insobriety.
Like the desert, these stories are harsh and intense. The sheer fury of the brother\son in Cavalier is matched only by the desperate sadness of his sister in Red Dust. The visceral force of the emotional reactions in these characters indicates genuine tragedy, and yet they are alone in their various personal despairs, scattered through the desert to reel in solitude.
It isn’t a stretch to compare the solitude and discomfort of being alone in the desert with the loneliness and despair of coming to grips with a truly heart wrenching tragedy. In this case, the Southwest of the United States mirrors the emotional landscape of these three individuals. Their parts in the triptych show them adrift and far removed from each other, struggling through the heat and pain of their turmoil. The American Southwest bears a unique combination of stark, beautiful land and the sunbaked remains of the American Dream, and that resigned but fearsome force lends extra weight to stories that already pack significant emotional punch.
McArdle shows an impressive breadth of tone and content in her work, and the physical landscapes consistently stand out as relevant and poignant. Perhaps it is her technical precision that results in crisp, clear images, or perhaps her narratives consistently draw her to places beautiful enough to fully reflect beautiful music. Whatever the reason, she carries viewers along for her wise, omniscient tellings of modern stories, and the places we visit with her are real and true.