Making art accessible

Six years ago, New London artists Andrew Nordin and Lisa Bergh turned their house into an art exhibition space.

The couple’s work will be on display through Aug. 30 at the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council’s art gallery in downtown Marshall. An opening reception will be from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, which includes the music of Peter Lothringer from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

The two are art instructors at Ridgewater College at both the Hutchinson and Willmar campuses and at St. Cloud State University. They also are the founders/directors of ARThouse, a residential, phantom exhibition space specializing in contemporary arts and ideas.

The two became artists in different ways. Bergh was studying anthropology at a community college in Tempe, Ariz. and needed to take an art course to meet a humanities requirement.

“Next thing you know, I have an MFA in spatial arts from San Jose University,” she said. “I have never found the jump from anthropology that big. Artists are really just anthropologists and scientists with jazz hands.”

Nordin said he always drew as a kid and arranged his high school classes to have art all afternoon.

“The painting bug took over while studying graphic design at St. Cloud State,” he said. “It dawned on me that the creative output that happens when you make fine art was something I could imagine myself doing full time.”

The two said it’s not that different having two artists in the house.

“I remember someone saying that it would be difficult to have another visual artist as a partner because of the competition and hurt feelings,” Nordin said. “On the contrary, having another art ‘expert’ in the house is convenient when you need to have a studio critique. Lisa has good judgement about what is working with my paintings.”

“Like many young families, we are busy with our children and work,” Bergh said. “I guess the main difference is we each have made a commitment to maintain consistent and committed studio practices on top of work and family responsibilities. We are always short on time and frequently overbooked but work to schedule the space and time for each to have the necessary studio time it takes to grow as an artist.”

Bergh said her work as always shifted mediums depending on the ideas she is working with.

“For the SMAHC show, I will be presenting a variety of works on paper,” she said. “However, I work with sculpture, video, photography and installation pieces too. I have never defined myself as a painter or a sculptor but as an artist.”

Nordin calls himself a painter first, as he’s always been engulfed in a real love affair with oil paint and canvas surfaces.

“It’s warm and visceral and unpredictable,” he said. “Since I started as a graphic designer, I’ve also been interested in 21st century solutions and love being on a computer and working with video and Photoshop. Personally, I get a lot of satisfaction being a handyman, a renaissance man and try to do just about anything I think I have the skills or patience for.”

Besides having their own individual projects and exhibitions, the two also collaborate. Most often these collaborative works center about a public art component, they said. A few years ago through a SMAHC Legacy grant, Nordin and Bergh created a traveling video sculpture titled “Inheritance of Location.” It was presented at a number of atypical locations throughout southwest Minnesota, such as the Marshall-Lyon County Library and the grocery store in Ortonville.

Recently, the couple received another Legacy grant through SMAHC to create The Traveling Museum. This project will be a small mobile sculpture with curated art exhibits paired with didactic programming, they said. Next winter, it will be found on several lakes, and the couple hopes to partner with a variety of organizations in an effort to bring quality contemporary art experiences to more audiences.

“We are always interested in making art viewing more accessible and fun as well as exploring ideas of pushing how and where art can be presented,” they said.

One of those ideas was the establishment of the ARThouse in 2007. The two simply cleared out their living room, transforming their domestic place into a public gallery or the traditional white cube.

“The project centered on creating an experimental lab for artists while bringing contemporary art experiences to our small community,” they said.

In the upcoming exhibit at SMAHC, Bergh is presenting two different series of drawings informed and influenced by the variety of images and experiences in her day-to-day life.

“The works attempt to organize, abstract and construct a personal etymology akin to mapping,” she said.

For his part, Nordin is showing works that continues a dialogue with process-based image making and presents non-objective works that hopefully are in concert with one another.

“They vary in scale and intensity, but all have a tension between finished works and ideas about ‘provisional’ presentation of painting, which is as punk rock as I can approach, in an elegant manner,” he said.