Body Worlds

During Leonard’s Visit we decided to go to Body Worlds.  If you’re unfamiliar, let me explain a little more about this exhibit.

 

Dr. Gunther von Hagens invented the process of plastination in 1979.  Basically, it’s a way to preserve flesh by sealing it permanently in plastic.  It doesn’t rot or smell, it just lasts forever.  In 1995, an exhibit showcasing this technique, called Body Worlds, opened in Tokyo, and there are several travelling exhibits showcasing the technology and using it to teach anatomy.

In Calgary, it’s at the TELUS World of Science until September 6th.

Leonard, Tall and I went one Sunday afternoon.  Admission is a bit steep, at $30 per head, plus an additional $5 if you want to see the educational film and an extra charge if you want the headphone guide.  I didn’t get the headphones, and I’m pretty sure I’m not missing out there.  If it wasn’t for the relatively unique nature of the exhibit, I probably wouldn’t have paid that much.  There are very few similar shows, and I’ve got some concerns with those that I’ll get into in a moment.

Most of the displays show individual plasticinated organs or systems, such as lungs, hearts, or the nervous system.  There are also cross sections of people.  They tend to show healthy individuals, and contrast those to the effects of obesity or tumours.

Plastination leaves behind a hard replica, which is in all ways indistinguishable from a plastic model.  If you don’t remind yourself that these are the real deal, it starts to become boring.  You almost need to focus on the grotesque, or be really into science.

When I was a kid, I was really into dinosaurs.  Stettler isn’t far from Drumheller, which has the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Okay, I'm still into dinosaurs...

  By the time I was five, I understood the displays weren’t real dinosaur bones.  Those were too special to leave out.  The bones you walk by are plaster casts of the real things.  It never diminished my enjoyment, or learning, or wonderment of dinosaurs.

Body Worlds, for the most part, could have just been plastic models and it would have been the same for me.

What I really enjoyed was the full body plastinoids.

These were bodies which had their skin removed, and were then posed to show how muscles work together, or how organs interact.  They were unique, and fascinating, and the worth the price of admission.

The $5 film was not.  It was a C Grade documentary that had little education value if you were over ten years old, and even less to do with Body Worlds.  As in nothing to do with it.  It was just tacked on, and should be avoided.

The most interesting thing to me was the consent form.  The biggest controversy I have heard around the exhibit is about the consent of the subjects.  I know a similar show, Our Body, was shut down in France when the consent or source of the bodies could not be produced.  The bodies in this exhibit appear to have come from executed Chinese prisoners.  While Body Worlds has faced similar criticism, their website contains very specific information of both the accusations against them, and how they were erroneous and defended in court when necessary.

S2 saw a Body World Exhibit in New York, and was disturbed by the foetuses included.  When I reached this section of the exhibit, I read very carefully to determine the source of these specimens.  They were donations from older medical collections from universities and all predated the 1920s.  While this makes consent even more of a question, the age of the specimens makes it rather difficult to do anything about it.

Other controversies surround whether or not the exhibit is morally decent or in good taste, usually from religious figures or politicians.  I really don’t believe that this is a question, considering the consent form.  It is really in-depth.  Those wishing to donate need to be 18.  They need to indicate they understood some considered this more of an artistic exhibit than a scientific one.  Donors had the option to be seen only by medical and biology students at accredited institutions, or to be seen by the general public.  They chose whether or not exhibit visitors had permission to touch their remains.  They chose if they wanted to be full body plastinoids, or displayed in pieces.  Finally, the form stated the family could override your choice to donate and to ensure they were aware of your terminal wishes.

Based on this form, the individuals and families were fully aware of what happens when you donate to Dr. von Hagens.  If a church or a politician doesn’t agree, they don’t have to see the show, but they shouldn’t be shutting it down based on the fact that they wouldn’t donate.

I hesitate to recommend the show.  If you’re interested in the science or art of it, because it’s both, then you really should see it.  However, if you think you’ll be offended, you probably will, and you’re better saving your thirty dollars.  It’s not a life changing experience, just an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

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