Extreme Tidying Up
Robert Krulwich
Monday, September 12, 2011 at 11:33 AM
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Have you ever wanted to alphabetize a bowl of alphabet soup? Swiss artist Ursus Wehrli did just that. The very tidy man also fixed up a haphazard parking lot and a photograph from the depths of the cosmos.

There are levels of tidiness.

Tidy.Very Tidy.And Totally Deranged Tidy.

Ursus Wehrli is in Category Three.

He is a Swiss artist and comedian, who may or may not have an OCD problem. Here, for example, is a bowl of alphabet soup he tidied up.

Alphabet soup sorting is forgivable. Everybody has at least imagined doing this. But who, upon encountering a pine branch, would think to break it into sub-branches, and then separate and sort the needles? (Though it's kind of fascinating that the needle count on the two branch pairs are precisely equal.)

"We Swiss are famous for chocolate and cheese," Ursus Wehrli told a TED Conference. "Our trains run on time. We're only happy when things are in order." Which may explain how he was able to recruit a bunch of totally cooperative Swiss kids, moms, dads, grandparents to come to a local park to hang out, after which they were re-sorted by gender, age and size.

Wanna see how he did this? Here's the Behind-The-Scenes video, Ursus directing, in his very pressed three piece suit.

The more I look at these pictures (just published as The Art of Clean Up (or Die Kunst, Aufzuraumen, from Kein & Aber,) the more I see how deeply mathematical they are. As I (vaguely) remember set theory, I learned that jumbles of things are separable into groups. Distinct groups. So imagine Euclid sitting down to a fresh fruit salad. If we tiptoe inside his mind...

Here's Euclid in a parking lot...

Ursus calls these photos exercises in "advanced tidying up." My favorite, because it's like nothing anyone normal would ever do, is his re-sorting of a beautiful starry night. This one is so totally, wonderfully wrongheaded, all I could do was giggle...

Ursus Wehrli has been at this for a while. He has a couple of books called Tidying Up Art (Prestel Publishing, 2003) and More Tidying Up Art (Scalo Publishing 2007) which tidy up the elements in famous paintings. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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