BBC Culture

Artists who can help you with a New Year declutter

  • Tidy park, tidy mind

    Ursus Wehrli gave a 2008 TED talk on his Tidying Up Art project, in which he broke down paintings by artists such as Paul Klee and Jasper Johns into their component parts and sorted them by colour and size. Yet the Swiss comedian and artist wasn’t content just to clean up modern art: he went on to apply his organisational zeal to real life. In The Art of Clean Up, he stripped a bouquet of flowers down to columns of stalks, petals and leaves; a car park was rearranged into a gridlike rainbow and people hanging out in a park were sorted into gender, age and size. ‘We Swiss are famous for chocolate and cheese,’ Wehrli told the TED conference. ‘Our trains run on time. We're only happy when things are in order.’(The Art of Clean Up by Ursus Wehrli, published by Chronicle Books)

  • Collecting not hoarding

    Swedish installation artist Michael Johansson creates his own Real Life Tetris out of mundane objects, corralling clutter into sculptures that fill entire walls. This piece, called Shade, was shown at Art Miami in December, created out of objects collected from flea markets. According to Johansson: “I have always been a collector, but I soon realised that collecting comes with limitations. Otherwise one is a hoarder, and that is something completely different. And if one wants to tell a story with objects, like I do, that story needs a beginning and an end, a defined spatial space.” (Galleri Andersson/Sandström, Sweden)

  • Sense of balance

    For Self Contained, Johansson stacked shipping containers, pallets, a tractor, a caravan and a Volvo in a temporary wall in Umeå, one of this year’s European Capitals of Culture. Johansson says: ‘There is a tranquillity and logic in order which is soothing, just on the right side of what becomes boring and narrow. And so a sense of order is equal with a sense of balance, a state in which nothing needs to be added nor subtracted.’ (Galleri Andersson/Sandström, Sweden)

  • Childish things

    On leaving London’s Royal College of Art in 2004, Helga Steppan categorised all of her possessions by colour in a photographic series called See Through – All My Things. In this, My Imaginary Friend (1976-2010), the Swedish artist brought together her childhood belongings after they had been stored for 15 years, creating an installation “of memories, nostalgia and materialism”.

  • Memory palace

    Steppan used her own everyday objects, as well as those belonging to her mother and grandmother, as part of a commission for a care home in Östersund, Sweden, last June. They were arranged to create a series of landscapes that the residents – many of whom live with dementia – could view inside the home. Steppan hoped the objects would spark memories as well as offering an escape.

  • Colour by numbers

    Emily Blincoe is a compulsive sorter. As part of her Colors Organized Neatly series, the photographer from Austin, Texas, has compiled a collection of images ranging from chilli peppers and plants from her garden to candy organised by colour in the Sugar Series. This photograph shows all her yellow things. Emily Blincoe

  • Material world

    Or you could go the other way in your passion to find order, and get rid of your possessions altogether. In 2006, writer Neil Boorman burnt all of his branded objects in a bonfire in London, claiming he suffered from a condition known as obsessive branding disorder – a combination of compulsive shopping and a reliance on status symbol brands for the maintenance of self esteem. He followed artist Michael Landy, who in 2001 famously destroyed all of his belongings with the help of 10 people on an assembly line. In turn, the artist Jasper Joffe sold all of his possessions after breaking up with his girlfriend in 2009, holding The Sale of A Lifetime at a London gallery. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters/Corbis)