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First Look: Inside the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum

“If you can’t handle me at my Tonya, you don’t deserve me at my Nancy.”

They're comedians, friends, and roommates, and now they're museum curators: last February, Matt Harkins and Viviana Rosales Olen created an online figure skating sensation that was covered by everyone from the NYU Local to ABC News to Sports IllustratedESPN and more, one that sprouted from a simple Kickstarter campaign to install a museum for Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the year 1994 in their Williamsburg apartment hallway. Their initial goal was $75—with over 150 backers and $2036 in funds, Matt and Viviana opened the THNK1994 Museum yesterday, reviving the infamous tabloid story of rivalry, redemption, and world-class figure skating.

Inspired after watching ESPN Films' 30 for 30: The Price for Gold on Netflix, which details Harding, Kerrigan, and the attack that took place six weeks before the 1994 Norwegian Olympics, Matt and Viviana decided to make a museum to celebrate the stars of the story.  

Star, February 15th 1994, Installation image by the author

Inside the 25' long apartment hallway they painted black, hangs memorabilia, art and artifacts from tabloids, tickets, fan art, cross stitch portraits of Tonya and Nancy, a diorama of Tonya’s famous triple axel, framed screenshots from the 30 for 30 documentary, and even calligraphed tweets.

Viviana and Matt at the THNK1994 Museum, Installation image by the author

To kick off the museum’s opening, Matt and Viviana are having an opening gala on April 18th at Standard Toykraft for an extravaganza of all things related to the two skaters and the year 1994. Professional Tonya Harding impersonator, Lynn Harris, will be performing, along with performance art group I Am a Boys Choir, who will show their piece on Tonya and Nancy, How I Became an Ice Princess. Alexandra Fiber and Danielle Gibson, from the web series SRSLY, will also be performing. Zackard Grady will presenting a scene from Toe Pick, his play about Tonya and Nancy, and Matt and Viviana with give a TED-like curator talk and debut the official museum tour video. On top of everything, Matt mentioned there will also be a "Kristi Yama-Dance Now 1994" playlist to get the party going.

Signed Tonya Harding photo, Installation image by the author

The Creators Project got a chance to talk with THNK1994 Museum curators, Matt and Viviana, about their relationship to figure skating, their favorite pieces in the museum, and how everyone is either a Tonya or a Nancy:

“Tonya Swarmed” Screenshot from ESPN Films 30 for 30: The Price of Gold by Nanette Burnstein. Printing method: Walgreens online. Installation image by the author

The Creators Project: What was your relationship to figure skating prior to coming up with the idea for the museum?

Matt: My relationship to figure skating was something I watched with my mom growing up—it was the only sport that I enjoyed watching. I really only knew Tonya and Nancy’s names, probably Nancy Kerrigan more. I definitely remember it growing up. I was about seven years old. I just remember my mom talking about it, reading about it and seeing it everywhere. I think it just stood out because you often don’t see figure skaters all over the news.

Viviana: I was a little bit older than that, so I remember a bit more. As a little girl, I loved figure skating because it was beautiful and romantic. I just remember how the media really framed them, and in my memory, Tonya had attacked her. It wasn’t like somebody else had attacked her. That’s how I had chosen to remember it. When you talk to 25-year-olds, they really have no sense of it, so we’re excited to educate them.

Image courtesy of Matt and Viviana

What was your research process like? 

Viviana: The initial research was me and Matt just talking about it and deciding that everyone is a Tonya and everyone is a Nancy—Matt’s a Nancy; I’m a Tonya. Then, people started reaching out who were actual historians.

Why are you Tonya? Why is Matt Nancy? 

Matt: The trap is if you try to explain why you’re not a Nancy—because you become more of a Nancy.

Viviana: And Visa Versa!

Matt: Yeah, it’s true. Because if you were going to explain to me why you were not a Tonya, I would 100% be like, ‘Ok, now you’re just more of a Tonya.’

Viviana: But, really, really, there’s a little Tonya and Nancy in all of us.

Installation image of artifacts from Lois Elfman

Can you talk about getting some of your artifacts? 

Viviana: This woman Lois Elfman was a figure skating journalist; she was co-founder of Figure Skating magazine. She’s one of those life-long New Yorkers. She was like, you guys should interview me, I have some artifacts. So, we went to go meet her for lunch. She was there in 1994—during the attack—and she had so many amazing great stories about Tonya and Nancy. She gave us our initial artifacts: this championship book from ’91 that has this scoring card with Nancy and Tonya on the same page, a pin, a backstage pass, and an original ticket. It’s insane she gave us these things, we were blown away.

“If you can’t handle me at my Tonya, you don’t deserve me at my Nancy” by Heather Rohnert, Installation image by the author

Rebecca Greco’s cross stitch, Installation images by the author

Do you have any favorite pieces in the museum?

Viviana: I think the piece that gets me most excited is the tweet, because it’s Heather Rohnert’s calligraphy and there were a couple different people involved. Kevin Bark found out about the museum pretty early on from his friend, and tweeted this: “If you can’t handle me at my Tonya, you don’t deserve me at my Nancy.”  A couple weeks later, Heather found out about the museum. She contacted us asking what she could do and that she could do calligraphy, so I sent her this tweet, so it feels very national.

Matt: I would say the same, as well as the group of artifacts from Lois Elfman. She just handed us all these things in a restaurant and then we were able to put them all into an exhibit. It’s really cool because it feels like an exhibit that would be in a museum, because they’re real artifacts from 1994.

Viviana: And of course, Rebecca Greco’s cross stitches. Her husband Josh Greco illustrated them, and then she did the cross stitches and they are so lifelike and real. They’re beautiful! She was sending us pictures all along the way and then it was suddenly like: Oh my god, that is Tonya. That’s Tonya in Heaven, like, the most beautiful version of Tonya.

Tonya, Printing method: Walgreens online. Installation image by the author

What do you want people to get from the museum? 

Matt: We want to create a similar experience [to the one] we had watching the documentary. It tells the story of Tonya and Nancy, apart from all the media coverage. Just their careers as athletes, leading up to what happened, how they made it through the Olympics and what was going on, and what routines they were doing. We’re mostly focusing on 1994, but we also hope you get a sense of who each of them were. When we finished watching the documentary, we realized it was so much about who was around them and their support systems that affected so much of what they were able to do.

Tonya’s Triple Axel Diorama, Installation image by the author

Can anyone come to the museum? 

Viviana: We’re going to be following the rules of online dating. You know, you have to butter us up a little bit, look like your pictures, have a few things we can verify, and then we’ll meet you on the corner, and if you look like your pictures, then you can come to our house.

“Young Nancy” 1994 Topps Nancy Kerrigan: My Diary Trading Cards, Gift of eBay. Image courtesy of Matt and Viviana

What happens to the artifacts after the museum closes?

Viviana: Some art is on loan, and others, I think we’ll be able to keep them—and they will be treasured forever. I think it would be really cool to put them all into book form, so someone could really have everything right there.

Have you guys heard anything from Tonya or Nancy themselves?

Matt: We haven’t tried to get in contact with them, but we do have a good update. There is this really dedicated group in New Zealand who love Tonya Harding, they told us that they had notified her Godmother/Agent. We didn’t hear anything for a long time, then recently, we heard that Tonya did hear about it, she thinks it’s cool and interesting, but she’s very busy and can’t come. We get it, we get it.

Viviana: Then for Nancy, the Boston Herald reached out to her, and she officially did not respond... So, no comment.

Viviana and Matt at the THNK1994 Museum, Installation image by the author

On April 18, Matt and Viviana are having an opening gala at Standard Toykraft. The THNK1994 museum will be up for a year (it lasts long as Matt and Viviana's lease). To visit, send a message to the museum, and for updates on the project, follow Matt and Viviana on Twitter: @mattandviviana

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