The Museum of Broken Relationships

Living in these unprecedented times has fundamentally changed my relationship to objects. In the week before lockdown restrictions were implemented, my boyfriend and I visited the brilliant York Castle Museum. Prior to quarantine I may have waxed poetic about how beautiful and immersive the Victorian street of Kirkgate is, or discussed the exciting exhibit Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Fashion, Food, and Life. However, the exhibition that has stayed with me and which I find myself continuously thinking about was The Museum of Broken Relationships. 

Museum of Broken Relationships
PHOTOGRAPH BY Francesca Killoran

The Museum of Broken Relationships was originally established in 2006 in Zagreb, Croatia, and is completely dedicated to objects that represents failed or broken relationships. It originated as an art project by visual artist Dražen Grubiši? and film producer Olinka Vištica after they broke off their relationship. Not all of the relationships showcased are romantic or sexual and each object unfolds a story for the visitor to learn from. They are sometimes funny, often heartfelt, and other times heart wrenching. The exhibit in York features items that vary from an Easter Egg that was returned to Terry’s (the manufacturer) in 1902 because the child it was intended for had died, to a can of “love incense”. The description next to the latter simply says “A Can of Love Incense, 1994, Bloomington, Indiana, USA - doesn’t work”. These objects work with the labels to tell a story. Some are stories about the relationships and others focus solely on the disintegration and the ending.

This exhibition arrived in York Castle Museum in March, just as Britain was due to break up with the European Union and has made this museum its home for the next year. The exhibition acknowledges this and has a thread discussing Brexit through artifacts. It remains apolitical though, and leaves viewers to use the objects presented as a blank canvas to purge their own emotions onto. The descriptions of the objects identify where they have come from but otherwise remain anonymous. It allows visitors to ultimately project what they wish onto the relationship and/or the displayed object.

It may have seemed like an odd location for a date, but it was a really beautiful exhibition. Then when lockdown came (and I found myself forming emotional attachments to inanimate items and chatting away to houseplants) I began to think about projecting a narrative onto an object. I have always instinctively associated different people with different objects, but I have never really questioned where these associations came from. I didn’t question what I would feel about the item after the relationship ended. Now I spend a lot of time wondering, what item do people associate with me? Will they look at it fondly when our paths diverge, or not?

You can check out their website to see current and past exhibits:

*    *    *

Francesca Killoran

Francesca Killoran is a PhD student at the University of York's English Department where she researches prostitute narratives in women's writing from the 1790s. She is fanatical about museums and history and can be contacted on twitter at @FranKilloran or via her website