Body Worlds

Not Simply a Mysterious Work of God

Heather on Body Worlds 3 at Science World (see my review): “I think that too often we want things to be toned down and made easy on the eyes, wrapped up and presented nicely so we don't have to truly face the reality of human life (which is disgusting, confusing and fragile, heaven forbid). I know the role of the liver and kidneys, but when I saw the system of arteries and capillaries that feeds these organs, it sort of made me want to switch to a diet of grass and tree bark. Everyone's got a body, in whatever shape or form it may take. Rather than shrouding this reality in the realm of complexity and academia, we should all know what's going on in there, and understand that our bodies are ultimately our own responsibility, not simply a mysterious work of God.”

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.]