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Category Archives: exhibit reviews

Pregnant

Body Worlds is an exhibit of corpses–flayed, then posed in ways that showcase a menagerie of muscles and innards. The disconcerting thing about the display is the manner in which the bodies have been preserved, plastination. Invented in the late 70’s and perfected on deceased inmates and mental patients (without consent), the process dehydrates the body, then replaces the fluids with a liquid plastic which eventually hardens. The bodies can be positioned in various stances before they set, which allows muscle movement to be studied. The visual result of the process resembles a hard plastic GI Joe, not a dead person. As the viewer walks through the exhibit, it is uncomfortably easy to forget that these are dead bodies rather than a plastic approximation. Stiff and ultimately un-lifelike, subtle reminders occasionally crop up to jar your sensibilities. When I was there, a child accidentally hitting the glass caused a scrotum to leisurely wave back and forth.

There is strained line between art and science that the inventor, Gunther von Hagens, toes. The website states that they want to present a comprehensive view of the various systems of the body. Yet, the first posed body upon entry is directly inspired by a 16th century print by Gaspar Becerra. Science or art? Presumably, it was assumed that viewing these ‘specimens’ from a scientific viewpoint would offend less easily than using dead people for aesthetic gain. But, the obvious inclination of Hagens to treat the bodies as a sort of sculpture is still present, even hiding under a legitimate veil of science.

Gaspar BecerraBody Worlds-Holding Skin

Encased in the exhibit was a breathtaking series of body parts whose nerves had been filled with bright red plastic. The outer coating had been removed, leaving a stunningly delicate sketch of the form’s contours. The sequence lost the shock and grandeur of the full-fledged bodies, but retained a strange simplicity of form that was instinctively appealing. Both the beauty and the intellectual interest that these pieces generated acted in the same way that a great piece of art does, transcending itself and appealing not to the mind first, but to the stomach with an unsettlingly intriguing energy. It generated that clammy interest that signals an attraction, and doesn’t disappoint with it’s concept. Science, art….whatever. This show, for all it’s flaws and ego, is managing to uncover a concept and idea that is fascinating and possibly groundbreaking. Additionally, how it is developed and then received by the public is going to be as interesting as the work itself.

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