This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #22.
Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music once likened the feeling of being in love to a drug. In a way he was right. On a chemical level scientists have discovered that the brain reacts a similar way. On an emotional level a clear connection between the two can be made: an intoxicating high that you never want to end, both produce a feeling that is quick to get addicted and gets even harder to stop. Your heart is going 100 miles an hour and it’s hard to stop. Sometimes things can get messy. Other times it can be clean and methodical. When it all ends you’re left with just the memories and the mementos forever reminding you of a happier time. Then you’re stuck with the tough decision of whether to throw them away. If you’ve never been able to take that next step, don’t fear as there is an alternative available.
The Museum of Broken Relationships exhibits the wreckage of lost love; the black boxes of a once happy relationship. On show are everyday objects submitted by ordinary people from around the world who have gone through the pain of a breakup. It is an ever expanding time capsule, filled with physical reminders of a time of late night kisses, early morning walks and plans for the future that have been left unfulfilled. Looking through the collection provides a voyeuristic glimpse into people at their most emotionally raw; people that have loved and lost. The most mundane of tokens, be it a key ring, a Zippo lighter or a bottle opener become emotional beacons as the donor showcases the range of emotions that brought them to this day.
Next to each item are a few words written by the anonymous donor. Some a few sentences, others practically prose like. Each one a powerful short story covering a full spectrum of emotions. The tales of the jilted and bitter, the nostalgic, and the relieved are all on show.
Like Hemingway’s famous six-word stories, sometimes those that speak the least hit home the most. One person manages to describe the decline and eventual break up of their marriage with just sixteen words and an iron; “This iron was used to iron my wedding suit. Now it is the only thing left”. Another uses a simple blue Frisbee to detail an ex’s shortcomings; “Darling, should you ever get a ridiculous idea to walk into a cultural institution like a museum for the first time in your life, you will remember me”. From the outsider these short descriptions provide a snapshot into a person’s own little world, whilst donating an item provides the person with a moment of cathartic respite and perhaps the opportunity to find some closure on that particular chapter in their life.
The Museum of Broken Relationships itself was conceived due to a breakup. In 2006 two Croatian artists, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, who having split up, were ready to discard the tokens of their love affair – the small gifts, the photos – but decided that instead their time together should be celebrated. At first they asked their friends to submit pieces to the initial collection which was first exhibited that year at the Croatian Artists’ Union’s annual salon. Originally designed to be a one off artistic event, the project received such an overwhelming response from the public that it’s transformed into something far greater than both its creators could ever imagine. The original collection has been on tour to 33 cities in 21 countries and they now have two permanent residences, with the first museum opening in Zagreb in 2010 and in 2016 they cracked America with a second home in LA. Rather poetically that this second home has taken the residence of an iconic Hollywood Boulevard lingerie shop that went bankrupt. In future years we may even see an item once bought there make its return.
The Museum Of Broken Relationships as an institution is a confusing one. Its mere premise suggests a collection of artefacts that revel in the world’s heartache, but in its actual existence we can gleam something a lot more positive. Each item is in there because at one point in time its owner felt some form of love, no matter how fleeting. Be it just one day or forty years, they shared a moment in time with somebody. If we’re dealing in tawdry clichés they had a connection. In Rocky Balboa, the eponymous hero talks about how life isn’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep going. Exploring The Museum Of Broken Relationships isn’t about gaining some form of schadenfreudian joy, it’s about reacting to the ups and downs of life and making sure no matter the emotions attached, you always have something to show for it.