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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The arm bones connected to the wrist bone, and then some

Published: January 19, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

My family has a tradition. Every year, on New Years Day, we go to the Museum of Science in Boston to see the big traveling exhibits. For instance, last year, we got the chance to see inside George Lucass mind with the Star Wars exhibition. This January 1, we were able to view the plastinated human cadaver exhibit, commonly known as Body Worlds II.

I am generally not a squeamish person. Ive seen real heart surgeries up close and personal and I am able to eat my dinner (and keep it down) while watching shows like CSI. However, the concept of viewing of people who were once alive and then put on display is slightly unnerving.

When we walked into the exhibit, the first objects which were visible were organs on display in long glass cases. These organs ran the gamut from hearts to appendixes, all in varying stages of development and health. It seemed like a medical exhibit and it was easy to disassociate the organs from being part of real human bodies. It was easy until the Muscle Man and his Skeleton came into view. Using the technique of plastination, which involves injecting cadavers with a plastic-like embalming liquid, Gunther von Hagens, who is the creator of both the process and Body Worlds, was able to separate the musculature from the skeleton and have both standing next to each other.

Traveling deeper into the exhibition, I saw many interesting things such as the difference between healthy and cancerous lungs (if they want people to quit smoking, they should just put a picture of a tumor-filled lung on the boxes) and the entire circulatory system done in plastic and red dye (this is done by pumping the veins full of the plastic substance and dye and then using acids to dissolve the flesh and bones, leaving the red-colored veins).

The part of the exhibit which most people come to see are the full-body plasticines. The amazing thing about these works is that everything within the body is persevered in minute detail. Ligaments, hair, skin, even tiny veins are fully visible. Most of these sculptures were mainly muscle and bonewithout faces, so it was easier to look upon them as plastic, rather than formerly alive humans. These people are placed in positions such as The Yoga Woman and The Soccer Player. All of them are fairly normal lookingexcept for the fact that they are sans skin and many of their organs are exposed in order to show how they work and fit within the body.

However, some of these cadavers are more than a little unsettling. One plasticine, of a woman diving, is split in two vertically with the divide ending at the waist. Her front half is diving forwards, while the other side is arched backwards. Another extremely disturbing plasticine is of a man sliced into about eleven vertical pieces. Its meant to show how all the organs fit inside a human but when one views him from the front, his face can still be seen, eyes closed and everything. That particular piece brought the reality of the exhibit back.

There is also a mini exhibit within the larger one. This has to do with maternity and the gestation period. Greeting visitors as they enter is a five-month pregnant woman, her stomach cut away, revealing her plasticized baby. This entire section is extremely sobering as there are fetuses at different stages of development, all lives which never got the chance to become people, encased in polymer gel. Personally, I thought this section was treading a thin line, as with all parts of the exhibit which concerned children. If an adult wants to donate his/her body, fine, but a child? The parents have to sign over their childs body to become part of the show, and that just makes me a little uneasy.

The end of the exhibit features more sculptures such as The Ballerina (who wears ballet slippers) and The Ice Dancers, which are a man and a woman performing the death spiral in ice skates. However, the most interesting creation near the end is what is referred to as The Exploding Man. It is an entire body on thousands of wires hanging from the ceiling. Every part is on a separate wire and the whole body can be viewed in immense detail as everything is so spread out. There is even a mirror behind him so visitors can see the back in minute detail.

Body Worlds II was quite the experience. Though the shows have been met with controversy by different groups, it is still very interesting and informative to see a 3-D version of the anatomy of human bodies, rather then just the color illustrations in a textbook. I could do without the creative poses of the plastinated bodies and be perfectly happy with the educational separate parts of the exhibit but many people are interested in the spectacle portion. If you get the chance to see any of the Body Worlds exhibits, go to it, even if its out of pure curiosity.

Body Worlds II closed in Boston on January 7th. It is now in Chicago, IL, in the Museum of Science and Industry and will remain there until April 29th. Body Worlds I will be in Dallas, TX until May 28th, and Body Worlds III will be in Phoenix, AZ until May 28th.

Note: Body Worlds is not for delicate stomachs. These are real human bodies and organs and some may be disturbing to visitors. Believe me, I saw a young boy faint at the exhibit.