Body Worlds 3 at Science World: Does Art Belong in a Science Museum?

A couple of weeks ago, along with Darren and Heather, I went to see Body Worlds 3 at Science World. The exhibition shows human bodies, stripped of their skin, and plastinated by Gunther von Hagens and set in positions, such as a male doing a handstand with a skateboard, or a female archer extending her bow. The tour very stereotypically ends with a Body Worlds gift shop. But at least there was no gift shop annex to the gift shop.) The exhibition's Wikipedia page and The Guardian have photos, but they don't do it justice, as there are slices and cross-sections and individual plastinated innards in the show as well.

Body Worlds did not seem like something kids would enjoy a whole lot—there were maybe one or two kids there on a lazy Friday afternoon, one disinterested girl with a knowledgeable adult explaining to her the functions of the various parts shown. The exhibits themselves were not only disturbing (the last set of 'parts', which I won't spoil, even rose some ethical questions for at least one of my co-attendees), but designed to be disturbing. Science World, if anything, exists as a venue for making science fun. Body Worlds 3 has great shock value: it's what we look like not only inside but dead, doing things we would if we werre alive.

The exhibition there raised, for me, a couple of questions but not so much about the human body. Was it appropriate to have a table where one could get more information on pledging their body after death to plastination? Does art, something that disturbs or provokes, belong in a museum of science, generally considered something that educates and enlightens? Was it art, science, neither or both? Or, as I mundanely wondered aloud at the beginning: was the ticket price something I could claim on my taxes as an cost of doing business?

[Cross-posted to Urban Vancouver.]


Metroblogging Vancouver has a long article on the exhibition: Von Hagens has issued a questionnaire to current donors to ask if they would object to their bodies being used in sexual poses. Most men were delighted, the women were aghast. Though he has yet to create a tableau of the sexual union, near the end of the Science World exhibit was a pairing of a man and a woman in an embrace. I presumed they were dancers or figure skaters, though from a distance the action is hard to distinguish. This display's proximity to the reproductive organ display allows the viewer to come to the wrong conclusion.