As Ian Curtis of Joy Division so poignantly sang, love, when it ends, will tear us apart. In the haze of heartbreak that often follows the end of a relationship, any treasured objects that once served as symbols of that love can remain as bittersweet reminders of what’s gone. It’s a dilemma that Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić faced in their own break-up as a couple, and what led them to develop the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Originally conceived as an art project in 2006, the Museum of Broken Relationships was ‘created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions’. Stories of love and loss, submitted by individuals from around the world, are exhibited anonymously on the Museum’s website (brokenships.com) and in the permanent Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, and its sister US outpost in Los Angeles, which was opened by John B. Quinn in 2016.
The Museum offers their broken-hearted contributors a creative medium to share their story of love lost, and a healing way to remove sentimental mementoes from their lives, while letting its history live on. From an axe and dildo to a ring, postcard and books, the collection includes a broad range of items, from the everyday to the unusual, contributed by individuals from around the world. Some of which form part of the Museum’s travelling exhibition, which has visited close to 30 countries, and feature in their book, The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects, released in 2017.
We spoke to Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, the founders of the Museum of Broken Relationships, to learn more about this unique collection.
How did the Museum of Broken Relationships come about?
As so many other things in life, the idea of the Museum of Broken Relationships was born out of a personal experience. It first occurred to us as a concept in a late night conversation, one of many Dražen and I had during our breaking up, while desperately trying to say goodbye to each other as our relationship was obviously running out of fuel.
We were obsessed by the belief that the moments we lived together remained present in the banal, everyday objects that were lurking at us from every corner of the house as silent witnesses to our separation.
This late night conversation somehow gave birth to the simple idea to collect the objects that were too painful for us to keep, and those of a few friends who had also endured break-ups. However, it took a period of over two years before the idea fully formed itself and came into existence. We made an installation during an art show and displayed them anonymously in a shipping container, using stories of their former owners as the only text. We named this place the Museum of Broken Relationships. At the time, we were proud of our little art project and quite unsuspecting of what would happen.
The concept behind the Museum of Broken Relationships began in 2006. How has it grown and evolved over the last 12 years?
The first installation in the shipping container in 2006 immediately caught the attention of an international audience. This simple idea snowballed over the years into an international travelling show that still goes on. The Museum has since toured globally, holding 51 exhibitions in 29 countries, simultaneously creating an ever-evolving, community-built collection that challenges our ideas about heritage. Today, our collection counts more than 2,500 objects and it is growing regularly with every travelling exhibition, but also daily since anyone can donate by filling out a contribution form on our website.
In 2010, we decided to found a permanent place, a brick and mortar museum in Zagreb that has housed our collection ever since.
Have you shared your own object and story?
Of course, we gave the first object ourselves. It is a wind-up bunny, a little toy, that we used as a pet. We travelled a lot when we were together, and when we were apart the one that was on a trip would take the photos of Bunny in special places. It is there together with a photo of a bunny in a desert near Tehran. That was my and Bunny’s last trip.
How do visitors generally respond to the exhibitions?
The idea behind the Museum is so universal that it appeals to people of different nationalities, religions, cultures, races and ages. Love in all its forms doesn’t need an interpreter so everyone can find a story that speaks to them. People react differently based on their own experience, but one thing is sure – the exhibits never fail to provoke a response; be it a sudden giggle, a hidden tear or silent contemplation.
The visitors often recognise how people are really alike in matters of love and loss. In a way, the Museum offers an exchange of experience so they no longer feel alone in both their suffering and joy. Again and again, they feel moved or inspired: almost all visitors feel the need to write down their impressions of the exhibition in our guest book and sometimes even share their own intimate story.
What do you think it is about sharing a once-beloved object and story that appeals to contributors?
This is a chance for everyone to do something about it – to be creative in order to recover from that pain. It offers an opportunity to get rid of the emotional burden and the universal context of similar experiences helps convalescence and wellbeing and seems to have a cathartic effect. By giving your object you permit yourself to create a certain distance with your own story. And this distance may be needed to accept what happened.
I don´t think people want to erase their memories. Good or bad, they are part of who we are. One of our contributors wrote in her donation form this sentence that sums it up well: ‘My gratitude for offering a unique and invaluable service to those of us who have something to give but nowhere to give it.’
Do you think there is an element of healing and closure that comes from people sharing their story and removing a once-special object from their lives?
By donating their objects to the Museum people can be free from their personal stories. They give them a second life in a place where they find a new dimension. It is a way to give homage to what is not here anymore. Give the pain away.
The Museum honours solitude, sadness, and melancholia as something valuable that makes us human, something that makes us grow. There is a cathartic dimension to that for sure.
Are there any common themes or insights you’ve identified in the stories shared with the Museum of Broken Relationships?
An object itself has a meaning and impact only on the person involved – to an anonymous visitor it is just a trivial everyday object with no particular meaning. Stories make objects alive. They enable the visitor to have an intimate conversation with a complete stranger who donated the object to the museum.
The Museum’s function is not to try and document love’s end in a scientific manner as if it were to be part of some greater research. The freedom is given both to the donator and to the viewer/reader to interpret what is before them, as life, in general, lends itself to myriad interpretations. This blurring of the lines between fact and fiction reflects the human condition in all its equivocal glory.
People find comfort in knowing that we all go through the same rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to love. Museum of Broken Relationships is an invitation on an empathetic journey to the depths of the human heart. It is a testimony to our ultimate need for love and connection despite the difficulties that go with it. It is a desire to connect visitors in meaningful ways across the growing divides of class, community, and culture that seem to define our world.
How did you choose the items that are curated in your book The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects?
Curation for the book was guided by our own feeling for the stories, while always aware of the fact that the exhibits are multifaceted. It is important to show the diversity of our collection and to illustrate the vastness of the term ‘relationships’.
Any plans for an exhibition in Australia in the future?
We don´t have an exhibition planned yet. But we hope it will happen.
You can submit your own story and object or view the Museum of Broken Relationships’ online collection at https://brokenships.com.
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia at Ćirilometodska 2, 10000, Zagreb, and its Los Angeles outpost at 6751 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles.