JOYCE MCMILLAN on GUIDE GODS at the St. Mungo Museum, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 23.6.14. __________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
IN A QUIET room at the St. Mungo Museum, people are gathering for something that seems more like a meditation session than a show. We take off our shoes, we sit in a circle around a shiny white space, with our feet buried in heavenly turqoise carpet; at the entrance is an arch made of metal crutches, the defining image of Claire Cunningham’s life as an artist who cannot walk far without the help of those strange, awkward and beautiful metal friends.
In this latest 70-minute show for the 2014 Cultural Programme, though, Cunningham sets about asking some tough questions about the “meaning” some religious faiths attach to disability. Her search is triggered by a Buddhist idea – put to her in Cambodia – that disability represents a punishment for evil deeds in past lives; but she also speaks to Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, agnostics and Christians about their views.
The result is a fine, mystical mix of music, lecture, movement, light-touch audience participation and recorded interviews, presented with the help of musician Derek Nisbet on harmonium and violin, and simultaneous captioner Louisa McDaid on laptop. Cunningham is such a magnificent artist, though, that it’s noticeable how the intensity and beauty of the piece soars when she stops talking, and either sings, in her glorious mezzo voice, everything from Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring to Let’s Go Down; or creates wonderful fantasies of movement and sound out of her own richly flexible body, her crutches, and the dozens of tea cups and saucers that represent all the tea she drank, in assembling the material for this unique, important and completely beautiful show.