Museum of Broken Relationships

Urška Purg

Can you imagine yourself standing in front of an used toaster for more than five minutes? Or in front of one legless caterpillar toy? Or even being addressed by a broken and dusty old garden gnome without a nose?
As impossible as this may seem, in Museum of Broken Relationships you will catch yourself doing exactly that – absorbing the most unusual objects and their even more appealing stories for minutes. Some do it for hours. This is the only museum that motivated me to read almost all of the texts they have next to the objects. No matter how long. Twice. With a year brake in between. In addition, I hate reading much text in museums.

I guess it’s almost obvious to say, they nailed it with the topic selection, since broken relationships are one of the most universal topics ever. Transnational, cross-border and relatable to anyone – after all, we all have a few broken relationships in our closets. It not only evokes our emotions, but also our memories and our own experiences from the past. Despite being a company, that named themselves a museum, visitors from all over the world are coming in masses and no one minds the entrance fee. They even got the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.

Museum is placed in a quite suitable building in Zagreb that once was an apartment. Some leftovers are still visible throughout the exhibition. To make as much emphasis on the objects as possible, entire interior is in white. By everything being white, it appeared to me that the objects come out of space. I find that perfect, since they launched me directly into another world. While strolling around the museum, this is exactly how I felt like – being in a parallel universe, or buried deep in the collection of one very diverse novel. It’s like going on an ultra-short roller coasters of emotional stories. In short, the personal stories behind the most random objects achieve luring out your emotions. You feel the pain, the happiness, the sorrow/ … of the people, who have sent their memories of their broken relationship to the museum. Moreover, easily, one of these objects could be yours. I caught myself repeatedly playing in my thoughts, what I would have done in a similar situation.


One of the most quiet museums I’ve ever been to./ Najbolj tih muzej od vseh, v katerih sem bila.

Some stories are sad, some filled with anger, some witty and in need of a conclusion, and some truly painful. Some stories – no matter how short, even give you goose pops. From time to time, it feels like peeking through the private house’s window and pressing fast forward button to be able to follow the most exciting parts. This is where the smartness of the idea behind this museum pop-ups – this is a museum of all of us. Of all of us, who, while cycling to work on mornings try to come up with an excuse for being late. It’s a museum of people like you and me, who while steering the babbling pumpkin soup, are thinking about this and that. It’s a museum of people who used to loved and love.

The objects, as various as they are, seem to be following an invisible order – firstly you meet the stories of young(er) love’s ends. Then more serious follow through cheating and adult dispersals, to painful family broken relationships. The walk concludes with mature (if one could name them so) brake-ups and ended marriages. The darkest stories are placed into the most shattered part of the house, where the bathroom used to be, I imagen. Some find this annoying however; I like the setting and the atmosphere it creates. Those old damaged bathroom tiles are perfect for the weight of the stories the objects presented there reveal. They could even be placed into basement, if there would be one, since those are the stories majority wish to hide from the world. Yet, here they can be told here – from strangers for strangers.


The heaviest stories in matching scenographic atmosphere./ Najtežje zgodbe v ujemajočem prostorskem predelu muzeja.

I would say this is not merely a museum. It allows people anonymously reaching a conclusion of their bonds in hope of moving on. I also found this museum one of the quietest ones, with everyone reading the texts, no matter how long. Everyone is trying to grasp the stories and after the visit, when leaving the museum, feel better about themselves. It almost gives a similar uplifting feeling like watching Keeping up with the Kardashians, or Big Brother show, where you feel normal after that.


A confession room in the end of the museum for visitors’ inputs./ Spovednica na koncu muzeja je namenjena doprinosom obiskovalcev na temo razhajanj ali zgolj vtisov o muzeju in videnem.

I have been very happy with my second visit in Museum of Broken Relationships; however, I have stumbled upon some things that were slightly irritating. Despite all of its informality, which is warmly welcome because of the personal stories, English could be a bit better and according to the English grammar rules. I was also curious to watch the videos they have decided to include on a display. Despite being very interested, I could not bear watching them – the sound was disturbed and crumbly, which made it impossible to listen. That particular element could, or should really be improved. Alternatively, it should not be there at all. Finally, having more chairs around the place would not hurt. After stepping out of this special emotional zone, your spine and legs hurt. Fortunately, a cute museum cafe is there, where you can finally rest right after having a quick stop in a well thought through museum shop on your way out.

Overall, museum theme, and the fact they have constantly on-going travelling and temporary exhibitions, dealing with the most current social issues, is just so perfect I can only wish I had thought of it myself. And they even have a twin-brother in L.A.!



Cooperation with artist Bianca Baldi in SEM

Tina Palaić

Museums of Ethnography and World Cultures are – due to their contents – in the forefront of ongoing discussions about new trends regarding the obtaining and interpreting museum collections. For some time now increased migration in and within the European Union and connectedness of different social groups through Internet motivate museums to develop inclusive practices and fulfil concept of multivocality. Representing other social groups without their participation is outdated for a long time – at least in theory. Especially museums should encourage and perform the practices of co-creation of museum knowledge in cooperation with different individuals and groups. They can invite museum experts from other museum institutions, scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds, contemporary artists, students, museum visitors, interested in the issue, and also representatives from different ethnic groups and other communities – especially if museum has collections originating from them or it aims to include in the museums presentations those groups which were overlooked until then.

Within the SWICH project the Slovene Ethnographic Museum (SEM) has invited visual artist Bianca Baldi (b. 1985, Johannesburg) to intervene in its African collections. The objective of her stay in the museum is to provide new perspective on selected material. An artist came in April and in one month stay in Ljubljana she started to discover artistic and museum sphere in Slovenia. She visited Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova and International Centre of Graphic Arts. In addition she mainly investigated numerous artifacts and photographs from African collections in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, which have been obtained since the mid-nineteenth century. Those collections were introduced to her by Marko Frelih, PhD, curator for Africa and Americas.


Bianca Baldi in the Museum of Modern Art with curator Martina Vovk, PhD. One part of the permanent exhibition was presented by curator Marko Jenko, PhD. / Bianca Baldi v Moderni galeriji s kustosinjo dr. Martino Vovk. Del razstave je umetnici predstavil tudi kustos dr. Marko Jenko.

Bianca Baldi became enthusiastic about the story of Slovene expedition in Togo. Two Slovenes, Anton Codelli – engineer and inventor, and his friend Leo Poljanec, joined German company Telefunken and between 1911 and 1914 helped to construct radiotelegraph station in the village of Kamina. First wireless radiotelegraph connection was established in 1913 between Kamina in Togo and station in Nauen near Berlin in Germany. This was an extraordinary technical achievement at that time. However, at the beginning of the First World War Berlin ordered to destroy the station, which was ruined in five hours. Many parts of the station – construction material as well as steam boilers – are still in situ. In order to present this heritage, the museum prepared photographic exhibition entitled Togo album 1911-1914.

Vir Spletna stran SEM

Catalogue Togo album 1911-1914, Slovene  Ethnographic Museum, 2007. Author: Marko Frelih, PhD. / Katalog Togo album 1911-1914, Slovenski etnografski muzej, 2007. Avtor: dr. Marko Frelih.

Bianca Baldi is interested in the collection of technical photographs showing the construction of radiotelegraph station in Kamina and also in the collection of talismans, which were found in Leo Poljanec’s bag. She is enthusiastic especially about talismans with mythological structure in the shape of labyrinth. Evil forces are trapped in the maze and they are unable to escape. As a consequence, they vanished and therefore cannot harm the owner of the talisman. Bianca Baldi wants to connect these two completely diverse collections and through them reconsider communication as one of the powerful tools of imperialism. She will present her work in autumn 2016 after the second phase of her residency in museum.

During her residency Bianca Baldi gave an interesting artist talk, which took place at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum. She talked about her last projects – Livro de Todo o Universo (2015), following a residency at AIR Antwerp in collaboration with the Museum Plantin Moretus Antwerpen, and Zero Latitude (2014), commissioned and co-produced by the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art with the support of Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg and the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC). She also presented the project she develops within the SWICH project in the museum.


Bianca Baldi gave an artist talk in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum. / Muzejski večer z umetnico Bianco Baldi.

You can get more information about her stay in Ljubljana, her impressions about the cooperation with the Slovene Ethnographic Museum and also her common research methods in the radio show My life, my music on the Radio SI. With this radio show journalist Chris Wherry aims to introduce the stories of interesting people and their favourite music pieces. In addition to other themes Bianca speaks also about her homeland, the Republic of South Africa, and offers some parallels between SA and Slovenia.

Cooperation between the Slovene Ethnographic Museum and an artist, Bianca Baldi brings us a lot of challenges – at least for the museum. It opens many questions: a role of an artists in the interpretation of collections in non-art museums; cooperation between an artist and targeted social groups within the artistic projects in museums; possibility of developing new audiences with the inclusion of artistic interpretation; ethical dilemmas regarding the relationship between artist and museum collections. I will reconsider these questions – and perhaps some more – at the end of Bianca Baldi’s residency in the museum.


Bianca Baldi in the International Centre of Graphic Arts with curator Božidar Zrinski. / Bianca Baldi v Mednarodnem grafičnem likovnem centru s kustosom Božidarjem Zrinskim.