Claire Cunningham is a performer and creator of multi-disciplinary performance based in Glasgow. One of the UK’s most acclaimed and internationally renowned disabled artists, Claire’s performance explores the use or misuse of crutches.
Claire is devising a new piece for The Tale in September. BOOK TICKETS HERE.
On memories of Torbay
I came to Torbay as a child. Once. I think I was probably about 11 or 12 years old. I’m not sure exactly but the family photos imply it was about that time. The time of a very bad perm and pink rimmed spectacles. I was never cool…
My memories of Torbay are mostly of sitting on beaches beside my parents both dozing on deckchairs. And I just sat, watching mostly. Watching everyone. Everything around me. People. Sea. Rocks. Stones. Sky. Birds. Seal! Was that a seal…?!
And watching everyone else watching…in a way I can see it was useful training for the artist I became.
That was probably quite close to when I started to use crutches, but you wouldn’t know. There is no evidence. My family weren’t allowed to take photos of me on my crutches. I didn’t want there to be a record. I didn’t want them full stop. I believed, or wanted to believe, I would only need them for 6 months, a year…maybe a year or two. Any photos of me that exist as a child or teenager I’m sitting down (for example, in the stocks at Cockington!), or they’re just head and shoulder shots.
Returning to Torbay
Returning to Torbay this year…I am forty. I’m still not cool… but I’ve got rid of the perm and got better specs now at least. This place, Philip’s writing- its own roots in childhood holidays here- inevitably has brought me sifting back through a web of nostalgia, trawling memories like the fishing boats endlessly coming and going.
And I find myself here now, still with my crutches, but a world apart. In love with them. These beautiful objects. Love for all the places they have taken me in the intervening years, the way they literally lift me up to moments of held, soft flight, the way they have changed the way I look at the world, what I notice around me – made me an expert observer of the ground (you have to always look where you put crutches).
And to see how wonderful that is, to notice the beauty and detail sometimes right there at my feet (all four of them)…that rich vistas are not always to be found by looking up, like a rock pool sometimes there are hidden stories below us, that only reveal when we have to slow down, or stop to rest.
I return now to Torbay as the artist who plays now in a way the child couldn’t bring herself to. I was a child in an old body, who has grown younger in many ways, and will grow old again but with insider knowledge of what to expect. And I think of how my crutches have shaped me as much as my parents. Shaped my flesh, my soul, my morals, my sense of where, when and if I belong.
On Philip Hoare’s text
Philip’s story and this place speak to me of the flow between things. Of the blurring of the edges of places, and people, and things. Of the way our view of the same thing can change so utterly when we adjust our viewpoint. Of how we frame things and but also how do we to stop and notice the frame itself that we have created or imagined? How do we decide that something is natural? Or unnatural? Or someone….?
Those things are not clear. Should not be clear. Like a shoreline, where the watermark and the wrack line is always subtly shifting. We think we know where we can stand and the wave won’t reach us…but sometimes we are wrong.
Are my crutches unnatural? Artificial? Am I “unnatural”? Yet they have become part of my body. Organic. I feel through them…they connect me to the world. They hold up my chalky bones…yet at the same time they are the very bones I build on.
On her new performance for The Tale
So here I will build. On crutches. Something. Something for you. For me. Something alive or dead. A memorial or a blueprint. Natural or unnatural. A beginning or an end. Or something in between. Depends how you look at it.
You can come and take a photo if you like…
As part of The Tale, Claire is running a masterclass aimed at disabled and non-disabled professional dancers. BOOK HERE.
The Tale is a unique arts trail across Torquay, Paignton and Brixham happening for three long weekends in September.
Find out more and book tickets at www.the-tale.co.uk. Under 16s go free!