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How Do You Mend A Broken Heart? The Museum of Broken Relationships

29 Aug

We’ve all been there.  That nasty breakup that left you hurt, confused, heartbroken or perhaps liberated.  Some of us get rid of everything that reminds us of an ex, some of us stay friends and move on, some of us treasure certain possessions to remind us of a past love and allow us to hold onto memories…  But who would have thought to preserve these artefacts in a museum.

Alice Bray, The Museum of Broken Relationships. Own photograph.

Now, this is no ordinary museum.  It is a museum that cherishes the relics of failed relationships.

Covent Garden’s Tristan Bates Theatre and a second venue, a stone’s throw away, on Earlham Street are showcasing a, somewhat random, selection of objects that symbolise the end of a relationship.   There is an element of being nosy whilst reading about other people’s experiences but the Museum aims to relieve heartbreak by allowing donors to let go of their  pain and, in turn, their relationships.

The Museum of Broken Relationships at 38 Earlham Street. Own photograph.

The objects are fairly standard things that we may all have (or maybe not – I personally found some of them to be really tacky) – but what makes them interesting is the accompanying notes that vary in length from simple, short statements to entire essays.  As they tell the story of a past relationship, the words bring the object to life.

The Museum of Broken Relationships at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Own photograph.

I’d never be caught giving my shoes away but, for one contributor, a pair of shoes that began to fall apart in Spring became a metaphor for an entire relationship.  The caption tells that even after a visit to the cobbler they were never the same again.  ‘Some things are built to last and some things aren’t.’  Lots of messages echo similar sentiments – often the objects are said to be stronger than the couples’ love.

Pair of Shoes, April 2010 – April 2011. Own photograph.

It is the plainest objects that are the most poignant.  A simple number on the wall alongside a message: ‘I couldn’t stand being his number 2.’  People have been able to find hidden meanings in anything and everything – everything reminds them of their loss.  I’m sure many men will say this shows how girls over-analyse even the simplest of objects but the contributors are both male and female – we’re on an equal footing here!

Number 2, Summer 2007. Own photograph.

The exhibition brings together individual stories from across the world.  Founded in Croatia, where it has a permanent home, The Museum of Broken Relationships has travelled all around the world achieving acclaim and recognition along the way; this year it won the award for the most daring, innovative European Museum Project.

The organisers, a couple who themselves underwent a painful break-up and are now friends, believe the museum is a place of emotional heritage where problems and memories are brought into the open.  They feel it is celebrating the importance of closure and the happy times in relationships although some of the embittered notes contradict this.

‘My ‘love’ didn’t last very long but it was intense and sincere… And regretfully enough, one-sided. These keys no longer bear any emotional significance to me, since my ex turned out to be a calculating bastard. However, I’d like to get rid of them in case I ever get tempted to show up at his doorstep again.’  For this contributor, the act of placing the keys in the exhibition is a cathartic release.  This is a very interesting concept and the exhibition presents varied ways to deal with closure.

Ex-boyfriend’s apartment keys, July 2005 – January 2006. Own photograph.

Some people, however, cannot let go but maybe this process will help them overcome the loss of love: ‘He bought this to stop his snoring. I could not go to sleep because of his snoring. Now I can’t go to sleep because of the pain of heartbreak.’  My heart went out to the writer.  How could you not sympathise?  My fellow exhibition-goer (you know who you are) found this funny so obviously not everyone has my compassionate nature!

Nasal Spray, 2009. Own photograph.

The exhibition is interspersed by a number of works including specially commissioned papercuts by the installation and theatrical artist, Alice Bray, which help provide a cohesive setting.  Outside the first site, at the theatre itself, you can leave your own messages on blackboards whether they are love notes, messages of yearning or immediate reactions to the show.  I was deeply moved by reading some of these and some of the writers were, in turn, obviously deeply moved by the show.

Blackboards at the Tristan Bates Theatre.  Own photograph.

Some of the exhibits are funny but they aren’t the ones that stay with you.  It’s not the cheeriest of exhibitions but it is thought-provoking and unique.  Some people have been able to move on and this has been their final cathartic step to relinquishing their hold on the past but others haven’t and it is their stories that are the most touching.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 4th September 2011, http://new.brokenships.com/en.

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