Museum of Broken Relationships: Digital Exhibition

During this time of widespread closures, the internet has provided both digital support and an alternative platform that has allowed museums to come to you. This is most definitely not something new, as museums have a long history of experimenting with their digital presence. The difference being that now, museums can’t open to the public. Digital can be a great option for continuing to foster visitor engagement . Although most definitely not the same as actually visiting these museums and experiencing what they have to offer, these digital displays are helping me feel connected to museums around the world. I’ve even found new and interesting museums/exhibitions to add to my ‘must visit’ list.

If you are looking for a preliminary list of where you can take a digital tour, I recommend this article from Time Out that you can access here. There are quite a few other museums opening their digital doors, so if you are interested in visiting, a quick Google will display many other options. Also, Twitter has become a fantastic place for discussions around museums and their collections. In short, if you are like me and love visiting cultural institutions there are ways to continue your engagement.

For me, one museum that continues to appear on my ‘must visit’ list is the Museum of Broken Relationships. This museum does appear on that Time Out list and I thought now is my chance to at least gauge some idea of the types of objects and stories on display. Enjoy my digital exhibition journey and I hope this inspires you to spend some time this weekend embarking on your own! All images in this post are screen shots from the museum’s website – there will be a link to the website at the end.

Museum of Broken Relationships

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum dedicated to relationships that end in heartbreak, exhibiting personal objects that have stories attached. The concept fascinates me, as it an amazing example of how objects can be used as a vehicle to display and unpack emotions. I will take you through some examples later in the blog but even something as seemingly dull as a plain black shoe can have this intense story of sorrow attached. Currently, the museum is only located in Zagreb, Croatia. However, they do have a great traveling exhibition program and have set-up displays in America, Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few).

According to their website, there are two ways people can get involved – submit their story online or send a physical object to the museum. Apparently, it is rare for objects to be rejected. This leads me to have oh so many thoughts about how fast their collection is growing and where is it all being stored. Online, your story will not be accepted if it contains discriminatory or offensive content.

Honestly, just reading their most frequently asked questions is leading me down a rabbit hole of museum thinking. For example, no object is off limits to donate as long as you (or someone else) can physically deliver it to them. Even then, if you live somewhere other than Croatia and wanted to donate a grand piano, for example, you can discuss this with them and see if it’s possible.

Finally, the last thing I want to mention about this museum, is that there is a constant reminder flowing through their website that this collection and  museum is about the people who donate. They have their own words as the display labels and convey their own particular emotions through a selected object/s.

Digital Experience

I have visited quite a few other virtual museums where you can actually walk through an exhibition as if you were physically walking through the same space. For others, the focus is more on the objects they have in their collection that might be on display currently or are held behind the scenes in storage. The Museum of Broken Relationships falls into this latter category.

When you first enter the Museum’s webpage, what you see is a map of the world where people can add ‘break-up pins’. Basically geographically isolating where they experienced a break-up. Scrolling further down you have top news stories. During this time, the Museum is encouraging people to share their lockdown stories and how they are currently trying to cope with heartbreak.

Screenshot_2020-04-24 Brokenships(1)

If you click on ‘Explore’, at the top of the webpage on the main menu, you will see what’s in the screenshot captured below.

Screenshot_2020-04-24 Brokenships

Nestled under this are 41 objects with their associated object details and object label or story. Something that might annoy visitors is that the objects aren’t in a logical grid but dispersed on the page in a random assorted layout. What does work really well is having the focus of each object being its image. You can see the start of the story but it’s really the image that can lure people in to see and read more.

Here are my top 3 objects on display – go to their website to discover more!

1. The Toaster of Vindication – donated by someone from Denver Colorado

For what is a pretty dull looking object, it sure has a title that made me click on the object to learn more. Some of the stories attached to the objects are lengthy and others are short, to a point. This toaster is accompanied by a short story of how sometimes you feel like doing something a little petty and if that means taking a toaster across country leaving someone temporarily without anything to toast bread with, then so be it.

Screenshot_2020-04-24 The toaster of vindication

2. A Hamburger Toy – donated by someone from Differdange, Luxembourg

The story with this object is similar to the toaster in that it’s short. All it says is ‘his dog left more traces behind than he did’. There are layers of loss in the one object but also it is a reminder of what people leave behind.

Screenshot_2020-04-24 A hamburger toy

3. A Key – Bottle Opener – donated by someone from Ljubljana, Slovenia

Different to the other two objects, this one represents a love that was lost due to death not a break-up. This is one of the many gifts received during a relationship before their partner contracted and died from AIDS.

Screenshot_2020-04-24 A key - bottle opener

It is quite an emotional journey clicking through these objects as you can go from a funny revenge toaster to a photograph from the 1940s talking about the pain still felt after a relationship ended due to death. It has prompted me to think further about museums as not just comprising of physical objects, but also as places that house emotions – layers of emotions. Not just the emotions of those who have donated objects, but also those of staff, visitors and anyone else who might come into contact with the object or the story.

Practical Information

I hope you enjoyed a very short digital journey through the Museum of Broken Relationships. I purposefully kept my list of highlight objects short as you can log on and see the rest for yourself – click here to discover all 41 objects.

Until museums can re-open I will be dedicating some time each week to a digital visit and expanding my list of what (and where) I want to see!

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator, Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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