Reviewed by Norrie Sanders
How many couples can say that their breakup led to the establishment of an international institution? Zagreb art professionals Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić had a four year love affair before a quiet dissolution. In the inevitable sorting of mutual property, they agreed to retain a windup fluffy toy as the first in a repository of objects. In the space of the last decade, the repository grew to become the Museum of Broken Relationships, with permanent installations in Zagreb and Los Angeles, and temporary installations in several countries.
The Museum’s physical objects are sourced from relationships across the world. People are invited to donate an object and write about its significance. This book records some of them – each object carefully photographed and matched to the donor’s story. The format is deceptively simple and some of the stories so cryptic that the reader cannot help but imagine the rest.
Many of the stories are familiar, yet each is unique. Some of the objects are multiply represented – postcards, love letters, jewellery, shoes, hair and even handcuffs being favourites. The array of weapons is sufficient to equip a small military force – an axe, bullets, sword, butcher’s knife, pepper spray and boxing gloves.
The revenge theme is also apparent in everyday objects. Vandalising HIS new car is a favourite pastime, perhaps by throwing a handy garden object at the windscreen or wrenching off an accessory in the dead of night.
The real shock is the reverence with which some of the donors hold macabre objects. Used breast implants and a lower leg prosthesis are standouts. Seemingly everyday things become sinister in the hands of a disgruntled lover – a wedding dress sealed in a glass jar; a piñata made from love letters; a tube of herpes cream; a melted phone and strands of barbed wire.
Some exhibits are achingly poignant – an ultrasound of a baby never born; a framed suicide note. Others reconcile tragedy with hope – a cherished object left behind by a departing mother was donated after mother and child were reunited.
Some are even practical – “He gave me his mobile phone so I couldn’t call him anymore”. Meanwhile, it is not clear if belly button lint is either practical or poignant.
The authors’ story is among the most compelling. “I still remember fragments of that scorching summer more than a decade ago, when love slowly gave way to pain. ….we took to sitting almost without speech at the kitchen table trying to overcome the feeling of loss and quietly surrender to the end of love.…. The physical remains of our four years together gawked at us from every corner of the house….”.
Whilst not strictly in the Duchamp tradition of exhibiting found objects – many of the items would have been at home in a Dada space. In using crowd sourcing as the collection method, the museum is apparently comfortable to accept whatever is donated. This is not only brave, but leads to the possibility of unimaginable numbers of donations if the crowd sourcing goes viral. Will they end up in warehouses full of rarely exhibited objects? That is where the book comes in – it provides for some curatorial discretion and offers a manageable 203 windows on other worlds.
The authors elect not to analyse motivation:
“…we still find ourselves puzzled whenever an unknown storyteller…chooses to bid farewell to their love by sending their keepsake into exile, to a safe place for public commiseration”
“Whatever their motivation for donating personal belongings – be it therapeutic relief, sheer exhibitionism, or a desire to immortalise the otherwise impermanent – people have embraced the act of exhibiting their emotional legacy as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony”
One thing is clear. Olinka and Dražen have, ironically, created progeny that continue to bind them. The product has struck a chord with people across the planet. And that is some measure of hope for a broken relationship.
Such a simple idea. Such a thought provoking book.
By Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić
Hachette Australia; W&N
ISBN: 978 1 4746 0549 6