Monday, October 16, 2006

Body Worlds

"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?












18 comments:

Tigger said...

That is a bit gross, but very interesting... Sounds like you had a good time. Tawnya

Anonymous said...

Someone once said that true beauty stops at the skin... on the inside...
LJ

Nancy said...

Hi, my daughter went to Body Worlds in Boston and she said it was unbelievable. My husband and I plan on going next week end. She is in school studying Nuc Med and my husband and i are both into medical imaging, so this is right for us.
can't wait to go, how did you get the pics, my daughter wanted to take some for school and they were all over her. can she 'borrow' them from your site?
I do not know if she will like your last post she is afraid of spiders....

Pol* said...

fascinating

Ms.L said...

Ohhh I want to see that!
Perhaps I'll donate my own body one day:)

Nancy said...

thanks for the info, i will tell her about the body worlds site.

Modern Viking said...

Weird... Sounds like my kind of place!

[eric] said...

A littel creepy and a lot interesting. I would love to see that.

madeline said...

i saw body worlds in LA! it was incredible. i was particularly amazed by the bared, delicate circulatory system and the developing fetuses. bizarre and enthralling. i couldn't look away.

messiah said...

argh..... jealous now. i went through vancouver, but was under the mistaken impression that exhibit was still in seattle (only to arrive and find out it had moved).

so i missed it. now i have to hope it hits cowtown.

Gary said...

My reaction is exactly the same as tigger's. A bit gross but very interesting.

By the way, it gives a whole different meaning to being 'plastic' :)

Hulai said...

That is totally the coolest thing I have ever seen! I wanna go now!

ZooooM said...

This is such a brilliant idea. I really want to go to one of these when it comes around. I think it was already in LA, but I didn't make that one. I'm about as squeemish as it comes to real life dead things, but I believe this is presented in such a way that can be overlooked.

The bodies were donated, which is a lot more than some mis used dead bodies can say. Sad, sick and true as it is.

I knew someone who worked in a mortuary once. She had a horrible time keeping the bodies from being either stolen or mis used. I'm not joking.

Dinah said...

I missed Body worlds in Toronto but I don't know how it would have been if I'd actually seen it...The whole things seems a bit surreal.

Ben O. said...

Dude, we all have outies on the inside? That is pretty cool.

Didn't make it to the exhibit when it was in Denver - looks very interesting, though.

Nice post - Ben O.

Anonymous said...

I saw the exhibit while it was here in Chicago and I was amazed and spooked out of my mind. I'm still on the fence about whether or not this is a good thing, but it is definitely thought provoking.

'ka said...

is this the same exhibition as the one in NYC??? 'cuz i heard about the exhibition, i just didn't bring myself to see it :D

PS: thank you for willing to fill out the survey :) i appreciate it

blackcrag said...

OK, the pictures look really cool, but if I was attening the exhibit, I would be travelling form one barf bag station to the next.

There's a reason we have skin covering all that, you know!