Interview: Olinka Vistica, Co-founder of The Museum of Broken Relationships
About six years ago, Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic were trying to figure out how to split their possessions once their relationship had come to an end. The big things were easy to divide, but they got stuck when it came to the sentimental bric-a-brac that only had meaning in the context of their relationship. They joked that they should start a museum with that stuff, and then a year later, they curated the first exhibition of The Museum of Broken Relationships.
For five years, The Museum of Broken Relationships has been making its way around the world, from across Europe to Cape Town and Singapore. Why do you think this exhibition has been so popular?
'People like the idea that they can take part. For those that who donate, it's as much an exhibition for themselves as it is for others. They create it, and that's what is built upon. All the stories tell us of a universal and yet personal experience that everyone and anyone can relate to. The connection between the visitor and what is presented is so obvious and direct - and I think that is what people love about the show.'
Many people think of breaking up as a very dark, depressing experience, and, certainly in some cases, associate it with bitter resentment or a spiteful revenge. Do you believe the exhibition illustrates this differently?
'I wouldn't say this is a depressing place; it's a museum about love. There are some states of heart and mind where you are really perceptive - going through a breakup gives you a new perspective on life. It's so powerful, and affects you so. The museum shows what love can be and that it is human - it's not depressing. Sad objects are not necessarily bad things, and that's the message the museum sends. It's full of hope and has a sense that life goes on. I wouldn't say this is a cemetery of love, quite the contrary, this is about building new relationships and emotions, and honouring old ones.'
What have you learnt from the items you've collected from London so far?
'What I like about these stories is that you can really feel that they took place here. Though they are often short, they are incredibly passionate - and you can see that London is a melting pot of cultures. I've learnt that British people tend to go on holidays to Portugal - many relationships seem to start and dissolve there.
I'm also always particularly impressed by the reactions of older people, those over the age of sixty, because somehow they have a different perspective of what this all means. Once you've lived a life, it seems to resonate more, and I'm always touched by these reactions. And then I realise that we are doing a good thing here. We're also in a theatre and the setting plays a big part of it. This is a dignified space and each object is given respect - no object is given pride of place, because no story is more important than another. As the exhibition travels, it gets more interesting and more international, and it contributes to our intercultural view of things because this is something that everyone can understand and share.'
Do you think there are patterns in the cities you've visited?
'There are recurring themes, but it's again our interpretation of the objects we get. Though you can't brand a place, you can certainly see patterns. In Berlin we got several stories that were truly overflowing with rage - we got axes used to destroy a past lover's furniture, and even a pair of hands from a shop mannequin - a real physical anger ran through them. In Singapore, we had a lot of digital gadgets like MP3 players and cameras, which was interesting. I think it would make a great basis for a social study.'
Is it true that you have over 700 further objects that are not on display? Of all these items, does a particular story stand out for you?
'Drazen (Grubisic, co-founder of museum) always ends with this question. He says it's 'like asking a mother which of her children is her favourite'. I can't pick a favourite, because there are lots of stories and objects that really mark me. Some I just have to hold and they give me goosebumps. There was an antique wristwatch in Zagreb which came with a note explaining that it belonged to a past girlfriend who liked everything 'old' and 'not working', and hence he left her. It's a witty, unexpected twist. Or a pair of goalkeeper's gloves, with which tells a lesbian love story at women's football match. I like the ones that let you invent your story.'
What's next for The Museum of Broken Relationships?
'There's been a lot of interest from other cities including Rotterdam, Tel Aviv and many others, and we'll be changing the main collection in Croatia. That's the joy of this exhibition. - it's not permanent; it's changing all the time with the experiences of people from everywhere we've visited. I have the feeling that this project has a life of its own and that we're just following it.'
The Museum of Broken Relationships is on display at Tristan Bates Theatre from Aug 15 - Sep 4 2011. The permanent exhibition is in Zagreb, Croatia.