"During an anatomy lesson, the cadaver does indeed experience a marvelous transformation: whereas an obtuse respect for putrescence once sentenced it to decay in darkness, the daring gesture that forcibly brings it to the light of day has turned it into a luminous figure of truth--science now burrows its way through the territory that once merely filled the bellies of maggots."
--Michel Foucalt, French philosopher
These were the dead posed in attitudes of life--an archer, a dancer, a man seemingly deep in thought. You can see his brain.
These were real bodies, once alive and now eerily vital, despite being stripped of their cloak of skin and all their secret inner musculature and organs revealed.
If I really had wanted to know whether beauty is truly only skin deep, I had come to the right place. As it was, I came because I am deeply curious about the human body dead or alive. I could scarcely believe I was seeing what I was seeing. It was science. It was art (maybe). It was amazing.
Body Worlds 3 , a controversial, educational, and extraordinarily unique exhibit of real human cadavers is now at Science World in Vancouver and this is how I spent my very memorable Saturday evening.
The bodies in this exhibit were all acquired through a specific body- donation program and have undergone a special process called plastination, a term coined by a man called Dr. Gunther Von Hagens. Basically, the fluids and some of the fats in the bodies have been extracted and replaced with injections of flexible plastic polymer which changes the tissues at a cellular level. The plastination lets the bodies be posed before the plastic hardens.
It preserves bones, muscles, internal organs, eyeballs, skin, and even the incredibly complex traceries of nerves and blood vessels remain perfectly intact. The possibilities for teaching medical science must be incredible!
When you visit this exhibit, you can stand mere inches away from the bodies. A few of the more fragile items (like the entire nervous system in a fine white tracery like an exotic plant) are housed in glass cases, but most are not.
There are small Please Do Not Touch signs. I have no urge to touch them anyway. They are both incredibly realistic and incredibly sterile. If I had not known they were real, I would not have thought so. There is no smell.
Now, the cultural and religious taboos surrounding the human body in death have roused a lot of mixed emotions as this exhibition has travelled through Europe and North America, but if you can put aside your uneasiness I would recommend you come and see this.
After all, everyone has a human body and it is an impossibly complicated piece of work whether you consider it a biological machine, a fragile living sculpture, a house for the soul, or just a pretty frame to hang your clothes on and go about your everyday life.
I think I'm still intellectually processing all I saw.
Ahem, on a slightly irreverent note, I learned that when a person's skin is removed, everybody's belly-button becomes an outie . Who knew?