Michelle Lisa Herman’s artist statement

Interdisciplinary visual artist Michelle Lisa Herman’s artist statement describing her work as well as the critical and theoretical frameworks it resides in

As a woman artist with disabilities, my work explores how we, as people, navigate invisible systems of power. These systems of power include social dynamics, default hierarchies, and other overlooked aspects of experience. As technology itself is also an invisible system of power, I create videos, installations, sculptures, paintings, and other new media works that often integrate technology either as a subject of critique or a medium of creation. 

While pursuing my MFA, I explored the ideas of limitation and extension and considered how we continually strive to extend beyond ourselves. Works that I considered performances by non-living performers investigated ways I could extend myself into inanimate objects. To deconstruct or zoom out from these ideas of limitation and extension, I began to see how invisible systems of power–including technology–engineer this duality.

My process is both idea and research based. I develop my concepts by working to realize a visual idea in my mind or being inspired by artistic research. In support of these processes, I use materials that reinforce the concept of the piece in a strategic way. These materials can be traditional (oil paint, sculptural materials) or technology-based (3-d printing, computer-generated). I also use found objects as I am interested in how they have a history I don’t have access to and how they demonstrate the production of value. Similarly, in the work, the concept of the artist’s hand serves as an interrogator of value. I may purposely make the artist’s hand visible to signal established beliefs of value through craftsmanship, or I may obfuscate it by using other hands–mechanical or human–as a method of resistance to these established systems.  

As I create work, I often consider the arrangement of elements and objects and how they shift meaning based on their relationships. I believe a parallel may be drawn between these framing devices and how one’s context or viewpoint can shift your understanding or perception about something to challenge these established systems of power and meaning.

I am currently considering the relationship of the body to architecture. Disability theory addresses how people are not innately ‘disabled’ but that our built environment–our buildings and spaces–are what disables us. Again, I see this as an invisible system of power in that we often overlook how much of an impact architecture and the built environment can impact us, just like how we overlook how technology now influences us and our everyday decisions. For example, during an exchange program in Bremen, Germany, in 2022, I was struck by the architecture around me and how it made me consider my body in new ways. I researched how 16th-century architecture is based on Vitruvian mathematics and, by extension, the dimensions of the white, able male body (i.e., Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). I considered how my female, disabled body was not what these original architects had in mind, and I sought to find ways to insert myself into that narrative as a form of resistance. In the small-scale video installation “Untitled (To Bear the Weight #2),” I created videos of myself pretending to be elements of architecture (an arch, a column, etc.). Then I projected them onto a handmade paper replica of Bremen’s town hall, a building that dates back to the 16th century. 

As a woman with disabilities, my work is often multisensory and immersive, as I feel it is important to provide multiple ways for people to experience the artwork. In the way that invisible systems of power often aim to manipulate, making space for these potential differences offers a freedom of experience that aims to create new, visible systems that emphasize interdependence and connectedness.

Recent Artwork

"Untitled (To Bear the Weight) #2" by Michelle L Herman depicts video of Michelle pretending to be elements of architecture projected onto handmade paper building
Untitled (To Bear the Weight) #2
2022; Mixed Media Video Installation (Handmade paper building, digital video, projection mapping software, pico projector) View project page