Pink Mist.

It sounds a little like a girly cocktail Barbie might order. Claire Cunningham soon puts you straight on the horror contained within this candy-floss phrase she learned on a recent trip to Cambodia.

"It's an unofficial military term," she says. "And it refers to what a human being becomes after triggering a landmine. It's typical of the dark humour that has evolved, and terminology that is often beautiful and poetic, until you realise it stands for something so horrific it is almost beyond belief. 'Explosive remnants of war' is another of those indirect terms. Then there's 'victim-operated' or 'victim-activated' devices. As if it's your fault you stepped on one, which is such a total denial of responsibility for someone's subsequent disability. Or for them becoming 'pink mist'."

The rapid flow of words slows to a halt. Cunningham is still sifting through remembered details that need more time, and headspace, before they can come together properly – not least because of the complex contrasts she found between East and West in matters relating to disability.

She admits to being confused and conflicted weeks after returning to her schedule of touring and performing work that has proved her one of the UK's finest creative talents and a dynamic force within the arts and disability sector.

Elements of that intrinsically personal questioning may yet make it into Pink Mist, the work-in-progress that will be shown at the Arches next week. But when Cunningham – one of the Arches/National Theatre of Scotland Auteurs taking part in the current Behaviour season – joined what everyone seems to be calling the Otters Project it was with the declared intention of swimming against her own tide.

"I didn't want to make another piece that was overtly autobiographical," she says, aware that her calendar is jam-packed with gigs (at home and abroad) that will pull her back into the self she has openly explored in Menage a Trois and ME (Mobile and Evolution).

"I suppose I felt I had already challenged myself to take ownership of who I was with those pieces," she continues. "I had owned my own disability, and – I know this sounds strange – I had actually come to love the crutches I hated as a teenager. They are the starting point for my work, and they are taking me all over the world." A deep, throaty laugh signals Cunningham's appreciation of the dark irony in that.

But why choose Cambodia as the focus of research for her Auteurs project? "Well, like most people I knew about the landmines there. And in a way I thought of land-mines as creating other crutch users." Again, the words peter out.

What she came up against was different from what she envisaged. "There are two main reasons for people being on crutches there," she says. "One is as a result of triggering a landmine, the other is polio. Neither applied to me. I have osteoporosis. People were, at times, puzzled, 'But why are you on crutches?' And actually, in some ways, I wasn't disabled in their eyes because I had money. Many of the villagers relied on income from farming. On crutches, they couldn't farm. So poverty was another layer of disability."

And then there was the whole notion of karma. Cunningham's not at all religious, so finding a faith system with inbuilt attitudes to physical impairments sent a lot of her own ideas into freefall.

"I hadn't been prepared for the Buddhist belief that disability is the result of a misdemeanour in a previous life. It did throw me a bit. You realise that, growing up the West, the discrimination is more rooted in a messed-up logic that says, 'You can't function as well as a non-disabled person.' And you can argue against that, and disprove it.

"But you can't argue against a deeply held belief – you can't prove they didn't do something wrong in a previous life. It just threw so much up in the air for me. It sent me back to examining attitudes to disability in the secularised Western culture that had informed my own life."

Sometime in the future, Cunningham reckons she'll take a closer look at how different religions and cultural contexts influence attitudes – social and personal – to disability. In the meantime, she's in the studio confronting "the fears I have of showing an unfinished work to an audience".

"Especially because, unlike my previous work, this isn't a dance piece. I don't actually know what it will be. Sound artist Zoe Irvine is working with stuff I recorded on my travels in Cambodia – ambient sounds, interviews.

"Am I writing text? Well I'm thinking about how I can do that, without making it all about me – which is a challenge, because I want to tell everybody everything about my time there. Not just what I learned about landmines and disability, but also about the generous and wonderful people I met who are making a real difference through the arts. And about the five high-ranking Government officials who spent two hours talking with us – with me listening, but at the same time thinking, 'I hope they don't think we're donors with pots of money'.

"Would the UK Government have five high-profile officials spend hours with a visiting disabled artist? I don't think so.

"For me, this is actually like stepping into minefields of various kinds. I have to see if I can move out of my usual way of working – perhaps in a visual arts direction, maybe an installation. It's about seeing what happens when I'm left to my own devices."

Those devices might, in their own way, be emotively explosive: but no mist of any killing colour will ensue – Cunningham's energies and insights are too life-affirming for that.

Pink Mist is at the Arches, Glasgow, April 25 -27.