Hurts So Good
Considering love and science at the Museum of Broken Relationships
Courtesy of the Museum of Broken Relationships
Seven hours into the flight to Croatia I start worrying about the juggler’s balls in the luggage hold below. The balls were a gift from my ex-girlfriend Andrea, who made them out of socks stuffed with rice. They were exactly the right size for my hands and, more importantly, reminded me of the day I taught Andrea to juggle on the lawn outside my apartment.
I’d gotten her to the point where she could cycle through a few rounds with gritted teeth and wildly flailing limbs. I went inside while she practiced, catching her profile through the window: hair spiked, body tilted to 45 degrees, chasing her tosses across the window before disappearing. I laughed, but when she came back for another pass, I began to cry—overwhelmed by the knowledge that I was absolutely, incontrovertibly in love with this crazy person running through my yard. But nine months of elation dissolved into nine months of hell, until we broke our engagement over differing opinions on fidelity. From there it was five years of putting myself back together until, finally, there I was, 40,000 feet above Greenland, about to hand the juggler’s balls over to a couple I’d never met who ran a museum I half suspected was a brilliant gimmick.
The Museum of Broken Relationships was conceived late one night at a kitchen table in Zagreb. Late because Olinka Vistica worked long hours coordinating Croatia’s biggest film festival and late because Drazen Grubisic, her now ex-boyfriend, never put words together effectively until after noon. They sat across from each other in the house that seemed already cleaved down the middle, divvying up the physical remains of their four years together. Some objects were easily sorted by value—she gets the TV, he gets the computer—but then there were the incalculables, the objects with little monetary worth but pounds of emotional weight. Objects like the Little Wind-up Bunny.
The bunny is scruffy and about five inches tall. Sometimes, when Olinka came home, she’d find him marching in circles in the entryway. If one of them left on a trip, the bunny went in the suitcase, and the partner at home got photos. There’s one picture of the bunny in Iran and another of him on a podium addressing a crowd. Late at night with their possessions all around them, Olinka and Drazen asked the question “What about the Little Wind-up Bunny?” and hit on an answer that would snowball into a museum and send them both around the world.
Olinka and Drazen are artists, and they did what artists often do: They put their feelings on display. They became investigators into the plane wreck of love, bagging and tagging individual pieces of evidence. Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul. Everywhere they went, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: “The Silver Watch” with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said “I love you.” The “Ex Axe” that a woman used to chop up her cheating lover’s furniture. Trinkets that had meaning only to two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience.
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