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Ursus Wehrli – The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat And Tidy

Art of cleanup cover

TIDY YOUR ROOM! – the childhood command most guaranteed to sink me in terror and gloom. I can’t tidy anything. My excuse is that I don’t have a tidy self. A body that can be relied on only to accidentally trip an innocent stranger in the street from fifty yards away, and a mind that’s even worse. I imagine my brain is like a collection of balls of wool in a carrier bag, into which has been placed an eager kitten. That is, a soft, nearly amorphous mass of unresolvable tangles. Many strands trail over the edge, and one or two skeins have rolled irretrievably far away, under the sofa.

A couple of years ago I had the happy good fortune to meet, and move in with, a lovely creature. It was wonderful: we chatted for hours about which exact shade of teal is the best, and compared pictures of plumed headdresses. A match made in heaven! Except for one thing: she has a Filofax mind. A Filofax, three diary, plus a backup rolodex mind. Her house, naturally, is arranged to match; not only do glasses and mugs not go on the same shelf, but once they’re in their own section, they sit in descending order of size. Alphabetized books and CDs are a given, and with all my training, I’m only partly close to the correct method of folding knickers.

art of neat - spaghetti But Ursus Wehrli’s “The Art of Clean Up – Life Made Neat and Tidy” actually surpasses her in orderliness. Forget alphabetizing books, Ursus alphabetizes alphabetti spaghetti. He rearranges cars in car parks according to colour and size, and orders sunbathers to stop lolling around in that disgraceful untidy way and separates them into man, woman and child, beach towel, beach umbrella, and accessories, each further according to hue and dimensions, or course. I suppose the men, women and children ought to be grateful he doesn’t further rearrange them into parallel lines of bones, organs, small jars of blood, and toenails. He’s deconstructed an innocent spruce branch into its constituent parts, and lined up a photo of the night sky into columns of big shiny stars, smaller, not as gleaming stars, and faint dots. A line of Japanese writing is classified according to the size and waviness of stroke size, and neatly piled.

Well, you get the idea. For each new photo before and after, it gets funnier. Wehrli is a comedian, a performance artist, and a visual artist, and you can see all these elements come into play. Each image is precisely composed, and immaculately produced or photographed by collaborators Geri Born and Daniel Spehr. The result is a book with a lot of charm, able to carry its essentially one note joke pretty well.

art of neat fruit salad My darling’s birthday is coming up. I was thinking of learning to ninja fold t-shirts as a special surprise, or maybe buying her a Kim and Aggie compendium. But I bet this would delight her more, although I’m a little afraid of the ideas it might provoke…

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