Blue Valley

Blue Valley (2021) solo exhibition at Sto Lat Gallery in New York City

“[...] Blue Valley is assuming the syntax of children’s television: permanently blue skies, instructional acrobatics, and plastic props. The artist appears, performing as a clock, while in another screen, a set of dice continuously roll and re-roll. In a third screen, a prosthetic arm sits still, dressed with a plastic wrist watch, the tiny hands of the clock acting as the only signal that time is moving.

       Markiewicz’s process is personal and research driven. Born missing an upper left limb, the artist only began to identify as a disabled person at the age of twenty-six due to her ability to, as she describes, “pass as able-bodied...with the right clothes, choreography and prosthesis.” Her experiences of ableism, and of performing in order to pass as able bodied, often inform her subjects. The work in Blue Valley was catalyzed by the public outcry in 2009 following the BBC’s decision to cast Cerrie Burnell, who was born with her right arm ending slightly below the elbow, as a children’s television presenter. When she appeared without a prosthetic limb on air, parents across Britain complained that her appearance would frighten their children. Burnell would go on to work with BBC for nearly a decade with the support of multiple disability groups, however the controversy illustrates an irony that Markiewicz zeros in on. At some point, the artist writes, disability “will affect most of us, either temporarily or in old age. However, it is an aspect of humanity that we deny from our imaginarium. Instead, we value efficiency, independence, strength, health and beauty—according to very precise standards.”

       The fear of the other, known to the artist from her own childhood, registers the extraordinary body as an uncanny other. This role was codified by early psychology and reinforced by modern cultural production. Using a Cartesian graph, Freudian psychology even classified missing limbs and prosthetics as maximally uncanny—at the bottom of the graph’s “uncanny valley.” In the United States, as recently as the 1970s, “ugly laws” outlawed the public appearance of disabled bodies. Consequently, “freak shows” proliferated, exploiting biological rarities as a spectacle, seen only with the viewer’s consent. Markiewicz’s work critiques how unspoken representational rules—what body is allowed to appear where and how—continue to control perception and identity.”

Press release courtesy of Sto Lat Gallery
work in the collection of the Baltic Gallery of Contemporary Art in Słupsk