Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb offers a layer of emotion with creativity

Croatia’s innovative museum, a first-of-its-kind, comes at an opportune time of human history to realise the inevitability of galvanising ‘a move forward’ with creative sensibility.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Dec 23, 2019

Often the broken relationships like the shattered objects are pushed to the dark corners - away from our sight and carefully hidden from the world. Kintsugi is a Japanese technique of repairing a broken piece of ceramic. To translate the term in English, kin means ‘golden’ and tsugi connotes ‘repair’. The idea of kintsugi is based on the premises that a broken piece does not necessarily need to meet our blindness, but it ought to be patched together, and showcased to highlight its uniqueness. If the Japanese culture has this comforting expertise to fix the ‘tenth pieces’ of the ceramic, the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, with a collection of diverse personal objects, is a space to balm a rush of emotions, felt even after a hiatus of the failed relationship(s).

During the course of the relationship certain objects – bought, collected or used together, gifts, souvenirs, and even a random purchase - draw a deep meaning for the lovers. If the relationship turns sour, a move-out usually follows the practice of discarding the objects of mutual admiration. Located in the baroque Kulmer Palace in the Upper Town – a historical part of Zagreb, the museum collects these objects replete with personalised stories around the strained relationships. The founders of the museum, two Zagreb-based artists: film producer Olinka Vistica and sculptor Drazen Grubisic, were in a four-year relationship before they decided to call it off.

The toaster of vindication, 2006–2010, Denver, Colorado, USA | Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb | Olinka Vistica | Drazen Grubisic | STIRworld
The toaster of vindication, 2006–2010, Denver, Colorado, USA Image Credit: Courtesy of Museum of Broken Relationships

Turning the idea of forgetting and remembering into formal shape of an installation, Vistica and Grubisic in a short interview, say, “it first occurred to us as a concept in a late-night conversation, one of many Drazen and I had during our breakup 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. What to do with all those tokens of love, material and immaterial, that you store during your relationship? Would not it be great if there was a place, a museum of a kind that could help you store it for some time? …. In 2006 we made our first 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 (next)…”

A 3-volume Proust, 1983 – 2011, London, UK
A 3-volume Proust, 1983 – 2011, London, UK Image Credit: Courtesy of Museum of Broken Relationships

Currently, the collection is not just limited to material objects, but the museum has spread its wings to virtual space also. The website prompts people to share their stories, without essentially donating an object, by either filling up a form or even as a guest. To contribute to the global collection of the museum, the website features a donation form that helps to send across the object. As an effort to raise the bar, when it comes to the interactive experience of the museum, the confessional section in the permanent exhibition, the museum has a book opened for the visitors to write and archive their stories. Lastly, through the course of the year, the travelling exhibition hosted at different countries brings together local stories accompanied by the objects via an open call for contribution that later become a part of the global collection.

An espresso machine, Too long, last 20 years of the past century,
Paris, France | Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb | Olinka Vistica | Drazen Grubisic | STIRworld
An espresso machine, Too long, last 20 years of the past century Paris, France, Image Credit: Courtesy of Museum of Broken Relationships

The variety of approaches to showcase and document the collection, notably, urge people to give their emotional upheaval a creative mould. Echoing similar thoughts, Vistica and Grubisic emphasise, “The museum shows how something creative and inspiring can emerge from such a painful and heart-breaking experience and give 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 well-being.”

A stiletto shoe, 1966, six weeks, and 1998, a few hours, Amsterdam, the Netherlands | Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb | Olinka Vistica | Drazen Grubisic | STIRworld
A stiletto shoe, 1966, six weeks, and 1998, a few hours, Amsterdam, the Netherlands Image Credit: Courtesy of Museum of Broken Relationships

In all its subtlety, the collection at the museum distorts the binary between the self and the other to invite a series of interpretations. To mention what Vistica and Grubisic state, “the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction reflects the human condition in all its equivocal glory.” The immersive experience of the museum is a chance to connect, engage and share the emotive self with the other. Here the other may hail from a different country or culture, but true to flesh and blood carries similar sensitivity when it comes to a broken relationship.

Hairdryer, 9.5 years, Cologne, Germany | Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb | Olinka Vistica | Drazen Grubisic | STIRworld
Hairdryer, 9.5 years, Cologne, Germany Image Credit: Courtesy of Museum of Broken Relationships

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About Author

Dilpreet Bhullar

Dilpreet Bhullar

Bhullar is a writer-researcher based in New Delhi. She has been co-editor of the books Third Eye: Photography and Ways of Seeing and Voices and Images. Her essays on visual sociology and identity politics are frequently published in leading books, journals and magazines. She is the associate editor of a theme-based journal dedicated to visual arts, published by India Habitat Centre.

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