Love & Hate at the Museum of Broken Relationships
“J’espere ne plus jamais faire souffrir
Quelqu’un comme je t’ai fait souffrir
Moi qui aimais tellement ton sourire”
-Manu Chao, La Vie a Deux
We have all been dumped in some way- romance ends, tragedy strikes, people leave and there we stand at the end of the journey, alone. Broken relationships are one of the most unifying factors in the world. Much like breathing and needing to eat, all of our hearts have known the loss of someone we care about and the powerful emotions and reactions that follow. An ex of mine once told me that the saddest part about breaking up with someone was all of the detritus that is left behind; both in the shape of memory and physical objects. She said her sorrow was in not knowing what to do with them- little trinkets, canisters of tea, a toothbrush on the counter.
The Museum of Broken Relationships began as an idea in 2003 as a way for the creators, Dražen Grubišić and Olinka Vištica, to create something to commemorate their ended relationship. This idea grew, they asked their friends for submissions and in 2006, like a phoenix, the Museum of Broken Relationships rose from the ashes of endings to create something new. Nine years later, when asked to reflect on the quirky cultural phenomena she helped found, Vištica said “People and objects alike can never be completely forgotten or discarded. Even the exiled have a land and a language to tell their stories.” And the exiled are truly multi-lingual. Since 2006 the Museum of Broken Relationships has opened satellite museums all over the world, at present in 27 different countries. And I’m not allowed to really say anything, other than allude to the fact that yes, San Francisco hosted one of these temporary exhibits this past winter. But hush hush, I have word that we might begin to dream of our own permanent depository of memory. But you CERTAINLY didn’t hear that from me…
“I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
There’s one thing baby
That I don’t understand
You keep on telling me
I ain’t your kind of man”
-The Rolling Stones, “Beast of Burden”
I first encountered the Museum of Broken Relationships in the summer of 2012 when I found myself in Zagreb, Croatia with 24 hours to burn before catching a train to Sarajevo. The people who ran the hostel I was staying at suggested a couple places I should check out and naturally with a name like “The Museum of Broken Relationships” my attention was peaked so off I went.
To walk into a museum, one usually is prepared for a series of displays encased in glass, but this one breaks that mold entirely. Toothbrushes, key chains, tea cups, and toys are on pedestals in pools of light. Dresses, tuxedos, jackets hang on racks. Then there are less run of the mill things: a wall with an ax through it, a strap on dildo, 5 baggies of XTC, mannequin hands. On their own these exhibits are interesting, but nothing to really write home about. But what takes the ordinary into the realm of the emotional are the cards next to each exhibit. The cards have the length of the relationship, city and country of the relationship and a short explanation of the object and it’s relevance to the ended relationship. It is hard to not connect or be moved to some level by most of the things there: cheating, early death, teenage love lost, drowning, AIDS, people who never came home, abuse.
“This is a story of left hand, right hand
This is a story of love and hate”
-The Murder City Devils, Left Hand Right Hand
After that visit I began to looked at the leavings I had gathered from past relationships with a curators eye. We all have things, or people, we hold on to. In my case, it was a particularly physically and emotionally violent relationship I was in during my early 20s. It left me with a very complex set of emotions and a lot of anger that I could not escape. Over the years I have gone to a lot of therapy sessions and have come to a tentative sort of peace within myself. But I always felt that it was a particularly dark star in the constellation of my heart and that wouldn’t leave me alone. With coming to terms with that realization that I decided to send off the last relic I had from that particular relationship. It took me three years to return to Zagreb, and when I did I was armed with a crumbling envelope full of X-rays- an anniversary present from my ex. It was very weird writing the story, our story, the story of how I came in possessions of the X-rays of the skull and spine of a young man an all of the things that went along with them. It was a trip down memory lane trying to articulate this relationship that was such a big part of shaping the person who I was, and what it allowed me to become. I gave my submission to the reception desk who immediately called the head curator so I could explained to them the story, what it was, and who I was. Sharing this story, this relic, was one of those profoundly intimate moments with strangers where you all end up crying and holding each other. It was release. When I left they asked if I wanted to say goodbye to it, this last piece. I told them no, and I thanked them and I walked out the door into the sunshine to have a glass of wine and get on with my life.
“And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way.”
-Leonard Cohen, The Famous Blue Raincoat
The Museum of Broken Relationships is located at 2 Sv. Ćirila i Metoda Street in Zagreb, Croatia and is open daily from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. Check their website, www.brokenships.com, for information on satellite exhibits, stories, and how to make your own submissions.