A visit to the Broken Hearts Museum
In Zagreb, then in other cities and on the web, Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic have set up a permanent and moving exhibition made up of remnants of romantic breakups.
What do a toaster, a pedal car, a homemade modem, a positive pregnancy test, dresses, shoes, handcuffs, poems, a box of popcorn have in common? , a mechanical rabbit, a pierced seashell, a steel guitar slide, a shopping list, four black dresses, a blond hair, a mango candle, a gourd in the shape of a penis, the score of “Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninoff.
Nothing a priori, except that they have found refuge in a museum, the strangest museum one can imagine, the “museum of broken hearts”. Installed in the baroque palace of Kulmer, an aristocratic residence on the heights of the Croatian city of Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships brings together the vestiges of sentimental ruptures, a real emotional heritage. Hung on walls, displayed in display cases or installed on backlit pedestals, these ordinary objects form a collection that documents the thousand ways of loving and breaking up, of meeting and separating.
The museum of ruptures was itself born of a rupture. In 2003, when Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić separated, they had to agree on the division of their possessions. “Grief…it was the only thing we still had in common ,” Olinka says. One evening, at their kitchen table, they came up with the idea of an exhibition composed of vestiges of ruptures similar to theirs. Three years later, when the exhibition became a reality, they donated the first object: Honey Bunny, their mechanical rabbit .
In 2006, they did not imagine the success that their artistic collection project would bring them: inviting all disappointed lovers to give them a memory and participate in the constitution of a “collective emotional history ” . The museum is not fixed, it is a nomadic gallery that travels the world and whose collection is enriched with each exhibition of a new collection in the host city , a way of translating the ambitions of the museum of hearts broken in all languages.
In addition to a branch in Los Angeles , the Museum of Broken Relationships is also available virtually on the web . At any time, in any place, it is possible to record a story, to leave an object. The digitized and open-access collections extend from São Paulo to Cape Town, from New York to Tokyo. A map allows you to find your way around this universal gallery of broken relationships. It also keeps track of the many exhibitions organized around the world, such as at the Centquatre in Paris in 2013.
“Who is telling this story? It’s me ,” writes Leslie Jamison, American essayist and novelist whose Pauvert has just published La Baleine solitaire et autres texts habités , a collection of fourteen texts published in The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker.
The American essayist who is often presented as the heiress of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, also evokes James Agee, the author of Let us now praise great men . “In the museum of broken hearts, everything is both banal and at the same time extraordinary. There is something comforting about this heterogeneous meeting of keys, vibrators or stuffed animals. One lost… Pulse! A blunt axe. From Taipei, Slovenia, Colorado, Manila… All gifts, all with a story: she went on vacation for fourteen days and every day I broke one of her pieces of furniture with an ax .”
“Some of the pieces exhibited referred to the great tragedies of history, such as the love letter of a 13-year-old boy fleeing Sarajevo under the bullets in 1992, a note addressed to Elma – a girl trapped in the same convoy, in the next car – which he hadn’t had the courage to give her. As she had forgotten to bring some music, he had simply given her his favorite Nirvana cassette as a gift.
The former manager of the place, Ivana Družetić, saw in this company a relationship with the cabinet of curiosities : “Since we have access to the smallest as well as the most distant, the selection criteria no longer seek extremes, they rather try to capturing everything in between.”
The Museum of Broken Hearts evokes Sophie Calle’s 2007 performance exhibition, “Take Care of Yourself.”
What haunts us, Leslie Jamison wonders throughout this book, what defines us better than desire, ” what we have lost, what we reach for without ever being able to ‘reach – alternative lives, broken relationships, deaths, landscapes inhabited by love and violence’ . The curator’s comments quoted Roland Barthes : “Every passion ultimately has its spectator […] [there is] no amorous obligation without a final theatre.”
The Broken Hearts Museum evokes Sophie Calle’s 2007 performance exhibition titled “Take Care of Yourself” . She explained the genesis of her installation as follows: “I received a break-up e-mail. I didn’t know how to answer… It ended with the words: “Take care of yourself.” I took that recommendation literally.”
She asked 107 women to interpret the message. “Analyze it, comment on it, play it, dance it, sing it. Dissect it. Exhaust it.” She made an exposition of the reactions of these women: a “researcher in lexicometry” underlined a lack of coherence in the grammar. A proofreader insisted on rehearsals. A lawyer accused the author of the message of deception. A criminologist found him “proud, narcissistic and selfish” .
When she was little, Leslie Jamison loved a book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum . Grover, the character of the tale, visited the halls of this strange museum, the “room of things that one sees in the sky” and the room full of “long thin things with which one can write” where a carrot had ended up by mistake. He placed her on a marble pedestal in the middle of the “carrot room” , which, without her, would have remained deserted. At the end of his visit, Grover wonders, “Where did they put everything else?” He then arrives at the wooden door marked “Everything Else”. He opens it and, of course, it’s the exit.
The Broken Hearts Museum is perhaps the most accurate representation of this crime scene populated by ordinary objects.
Leaving the Broken Hearts Museum , Leslie Jamison had a similar feeling. Everything she saw on the streets of Zagreb seemed to belong in the museum of broken hearts: a smiling garden gnome in front of lace curtains; irregular balls of purple modeling clay on a windowsill; orange plastic ashtrays near the arrival of the funicular; toothpicks stuck in sausages grilling on a sidewalk; and even the cigarette butts that were accumulating in a clogged evacuation grate… Everything evoked for her a sorrow of lost love.
“At the time, writes Leslie Jamison, I treated all couples like a crime scene, looking for clues or a recipe to steal from them.” The Museum of Broken Hearts is perhaps the most accurate representation of this crime scene populated by ordinary objects that suddenly acquire in the light of separation a special aura, not just grief or lack, not even nostalgia . which saturates the surrounding air like a broken perfume bottle. They are suddenly surrounded by special attention, they become exhibits. They speak. They are the protected witnesses of an enigma, the vestiges of a “civilization of two people henceforth extinct” according to the beautiful expression of Leslie Jamison.