Frisky Q&A: Viviana Olen & Matt Harkins Of The Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum
On Friday, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Viviana and Matt in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment turned museum, to discuss their passion for the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan figure skating scandal. Their Kickstarter funded project opened on Saturday to rave reviews. Their reasons for opening this museum are simple: “We have a hallway in our apartment we would like to convert into the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding 1994 museum.” They are both adorable and delightfully brilliant artists and I was so happy for the opportunity to meet with them.
The Frisky: So how did you guys get this great idea to begin with?
Viviana: It was like how all great things start — with a Netflix documentary. It was a very cold winter as you probably remember, so I spent a lot of time in Matt’s bed because he has the nice room and we watched a LOT of stuff, mainly “House Hunters,” but one of them was the documentary “30 for 30: The Price of Gold” by Nanette Burstein and it was so fun. You have an idea growing up, like you remember it [the scandal], but watching the documentary you got to see Tonya’s whole side, you got to see every little piece of it! And we were just enthralled. It was just a perfect storm, we had just moved in and we had a very unusable space – this hallway – and one of [Matt’s] friends was like you have to put something on the wall, you guys look like serial killers, and so we were at first just joking, like OK we’ll blow up really big pictures of Tonya and Nancy and we’ll put them on our walls. Matt works at a museum and he was like, “No one at the museum wants to talk about Tonya and Nancy!” And I was like, “Haha, we should make a Tonya and Nancy museum,” and then at 4 a.m. we were like WE HAVE TO MAKE A TONYA AND NANCY MUSEUM!
So what about this scandal holds particular significance for you both? What about them both do you find so fascinating?
Viviana: I think there’s so much to relate to in their lives. I mean any artist, any person who is aspiring to anything, you can look at these two athletes and – what’s a bigger stage, a bigger platform than the Olympics – that’s the end all. They were Olympic level. And just the drama of their personal lives and Tonya especially, we got to see the storm that she was in, how she was up against the world, and Nancy as well – they both were like, “we don’t care, we are going to the Olympics.” Everyone thought Tonya was going to drop out, but she was like “Nope, I’ll sue you!” And then Nancy is injured, but she just shuts everything else out and just trains and trains to get back there. So we just really relate to that perseverance.
And so you guys related to this ’90s scandal more than, like, the Clinton scandal or Amy Fisher, etc.
Matt: Well, yeah, there is just so much to get into and latch onto – everything that Viviana just said. And the fact that they’re going and doing these Olympic-level routines on top of everything! These triple axels and death drops. It’s not just a scandal. They are navigating all of that and then just trying to focus on the Olympics and do something in front of the world — in front of millions of people!
In terms of your artistic backgrounds what do both of you do?
Viviana: We are comedians and writers! We met at UCB and have done a few web series together and have done comedy in bar basements for years. It’s funny because when we first started working together we were like, OK, what’s funny, what is a funny thing that we can do? This idea came naturally, from somewhere that made us laugh – came from our real lives – literally just watching movies together.
Matt: Yeah, just something that we thought was so funny — to make our house into a museum, combined with a passion for something we really wanted to talk about. And especially because we had been trying to talk about this with people who weren’t just us! Like when we go out — we don’t really go out much — but when we did no one really wanted to hear us blab about Tonya and Nancy.
Viviana: Yeah like PLEASE don’t make me have opinions about politics, we just want to talk about something that happened 20 years ago! It’s a safe place to explore.
Viviana, you’re team Tonya, right?
Viviana: I am more of a Tonya and Matt’s more of a Nancy. He’s going through some things right now where he thinks he’s more of a Tonya but –
Matt: Look, we all have a little bit of both of them inside of us. So I think I’m probably a bit more Nancy, but I do have some Tonya. So does Nancy! Even Nancy has some Tonya in her.
So it’s like the Human Condition.
Viviana: It’s like the Duality of Man!
Do you guys have plans to do another museum or even a show about Tonya and Nancy after this?
Viviana: I mean, we’re thinking about the next thing to do, but we want this to be available for a long time because we have very real art and artifacts and we want to keep that safe. We’ve thought about going on tour with it – like people in Portland want to see it. Maybe doing a show with it since we are both comedians.
Matt: We are just trying to be really open, because three months ago we did not think we would be having very serious meetings about how to light exhibits in our hallway or how to mount certain things, so who knows what’s next right now!
Viviana: But we are working on a comedy screenplay right now about pop culture. We love to write and perform. This project, however, has involved collaborating with people like we’ve never done before. Matt and I are so successful working together, even on a lot of failed things, because we like each other so much. But collaborating with strangers for this – it’s been so amazing. So it was like a chain. We watched the Burstein documentary, we had this silly idea, and then all these people came to us giving us incredible art, like these gorgeous cross stitches here!
Matt: So a lot of people met with us after getting in touch with us online. Lois Elfman was one of the first people we met. She’s a journalist who covered figure skating – she still does in fact. She writes for International Figure Skating magazine. She met with us at a diner and gave us all of these artifacts and was like “You’re gonna need these if you’re going to do this museum.” And so after that we were like, OK, we really need to do this right and make it as professional as we can – in this hallway!
Viviana: These were things that were important to her so she trusted us. It would be so shitty if we were just like “OK thanks…!” and then had not done anything right with it. So we get to show all of this amazing stuff to reporters and everyone.
What do you think this generation’s equivalent scandal? Is there even an equivalent thing?
Matt: It’s too hard because too much happens every second. There are like thousands.
Viviana: I mean, you think back to that time, when people were treating Tonya with such shit, but she had this real tragic background – married to Jeff Gillooly, who we really, really hate. The husband and the bodyguard had hired people to do this. So she didn’t have a lot of control! She had these leeches around her. So if anyone can learn anything from this – it’s to be aware of the “Gilloolies” in your life.