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Remembering lost love

Name

The Museum of Broken Relationships

Idea

To exhibit artefacts from broken relationships

Throughout the centuries, we have developed ways of publicly acknowledging significant life events. Funerals commemorate the passing of life, graduation ceremonies celebrate the achievements of study and weddings are seen as a means of formally and legally binding a relationship. But when a personal relationship breaks down, the two halves go their separate ways alone without fanfare.

Sensing that society was failing to acknowledge the impact that a broken love has on our lives, former couple Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic used a series of artefacts or tangible memories that they had accrued throughout their relationship to create a small exhibition. They say that the concept was “born out of a personal experience of trying to save, transform and ultimately overcome the breakdown of (their) relationship”. The first exhibit was held in a shipping container Zagreb, Croatia in 2006 and the unique approach seemed to fill a necessary void, the public response was overwhelming. Soon after, the Museum of Broken Relationships (MBR) found a permanent home in Zagreb and began to tour internationally.

Curious about the idea of honouring broken relationships, we caught up with the team at the MBR to find out more and to see what secrets they might have uncovered, if any, about the process of moving on.

Where did idea for the Museum of Broken Relationships come from?

It was one of those simple ideas that come to one's mind in plain conversation. What to do with all those tokens of love, material and immaterial, that you collected during your relationship? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a museum of a kind that could help you store it for some time? Once the idea had fully formed itself and elicited enthusiastic responses from friends, it slowly began its transformation into reality.

Can you tell us more about the exhibits? Also, I am curious as to whether there is a significant difference in these when you are touring and collecting internationally?

Our collection currently comprises around 1200 donations and is still growing. Most of these objects were collected on tour since every new exhibition relies on local donations for its success. This ensures that no two exhibitions are ever the same and is the reason why our Zagreb museum showcases objects from towns and cities as diverse as Sarajevo, Kilkenny, Manila, Amsterdam and Paris.

We are not surprised in the technologically advanced society of Singapore the people spoke about their break-ups through a multitude of digital gadgets such as MP3 players and digital cameras. A teddy bear from the same city told us a story of a teenage love between a Chinese girl and a Malay boy which was equally disapproved of by both family and society. Numerous exhibits from Manila (the Philippines) as banal as a daily newspaper, a film poster or an hourglass witnessed how the strong economy-instigated immigration movement can break love, even wedding vows. In San Francisco a small deer made of bamboo told a moving story about the tragic loss of a loved one who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder upon returning from Iraq. Not to mention numerous stories from Zagreb or Sarajevo that are often marked by a painful and tragic dissolution of the country during the war in ex-Yugoslavia. It is, of course, clear that a person from Manila won't capture and understand all historical references in the story from a war-torn Sarajevo. However, the universality of love, pain and loss ultimately helps us to overcome our cultural limitations and the partiality of knowledge, sometimes even our prejudices.

It is interesting though to consider what role cultural differences play in our relationships and their demise and how an outsider would engage with that exhibit..

From the first donations in Zagreb it was obvious that the personal narratives do not exist in a vacuum, out of space and time. Their multiple references often outgrow the pure intimate experience of the two protagonists. Each exhibition reveals something new and valuable about the stringent influence of the cultural and historical context on these often elliptic personal accounts, concluded with joking irony or bitter disappointment, sorrow, regret or unquenched longing.

Mixed feelings, doubts, ups and downs we all go through after a break-up or a relationship ending prove to be clearly understandable to every human being whatever their personal, cultural, social, political or economic background.

Has the collection evolved over time?

Our first permanent display in Zagreb (from October 2010 to March 2014) consisted of a sequence of eight rooms each of which carried one central theme and title: Allure of Distance – Intimations of Proximity, Whims of Desire, Rage and Fury, Resonance of Grief, Sealed by History, Rites of Passage, Tides of Time, Paradox of Home. The idea was to portray the rainbow of emotions we all go through when falling in and out of love.

In our second permanent display which has opened just a few weeks ago we tried to make equally unobtrusive interpretation. Here the rooms gather objects telling stories of different kinds of love in regard of one’s lifetime. The display is in the course of development and it is still not titled but the visitors can discern the idea of presenting first love, playful relationships, business relationships, dangerous relationships, relationships between parents and children, marriage and so on.

Is there a minimum amount of time that a relationship has to go for before it can be considered broken?

No - I don`t believe that such limitations exist. Of course, one can always make up some personal rules. But I am afraid that life always finds a way to discard them and our collection could surely offer some great examples for that.

Do you think the exhibits mainly give voice to the relationship, the break up or either party?

This is a very interesting question. I think it greatly depends on how much time passed from the break-up. If it was a recent split, people tend to voice their opinion, their disparate point of views or even to specify the reasons and retell some details of the break-up. Probably because it is still fresh in their mind and they use this opportunity to make some kind of stand about it. On the other hand, the long forgotten stories are being recollected in a much more abstract and forbearing way. It seems that time erases most of the differences and leaves just the feeling of what was once shared and enjoyed together. But there are also some very gentle and caring examples of recent break-ups so I wouldn`t generalise.

What have you learned about break ups from the Museum - is there a 'right' or 'better' way to move through the process?

Love is a common language between people of different generations, races, nationalities, religious and political persuasions. There is comfort in knowing that we all go through the same rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to love, its highs and its lows. It's almost too easy at times to convince ourselves that we suffer more than others or experience things differently than anyone else. While all our circumstances do differ, when reading the stories we realize that we are not ‘alone and special’ in our suffering and our joy. Though it depends on the personality and life experience of the visitor, a person might come out more grateful for the love they have or have had, or might realise that there is more to be had. In a way the museum offers an exchange of experiences and it is up to every single one of us to draw our own conclusions about the nature of human relationships in general.

However different all these stories of break-ups are, what they finally have in common is the decision to share it and part with it through our museum. Maybe this is one of the possible answers to your question. The museum actually started from an idea of a 'better' way to move through the process - by storing all the painful triggers of memories around us and wrapping it in a story thus creating a safe place for both tangible and intangible heritage of past relationships. It seemed a nicer, more poetic solution compared with giving into outbursts of emotional vandalism that are bound to destroy invaluable parts of our intimate history.

Without a doubt love and all the good and the bad that comes with it is a universal experience.

Interviewed by
Alice Bradshaw

Photography by
Ana Opalic