Yesterday, my flatmate and I decided to visit the latest Body Worlds (BW) exhibition, the Mirror of Time, at London's O2 Arena. BW sells itself as a lesson in anatomy using real bodies. It consists of 200 specimens, ranging from full bodies, body parts, and a few animal bodies thrown in for good measure. Now... I am a fairly squeamish person - let there be no BONES about it (Sorry, I couldn't resist!). I was, however, lured by the 2-for-1 deal currently available on the exhibition's website. For adults, tickets are ordinarily priced at £14 on the weekends, and £12 on weekdays, with concessions available for children, students, seniors, and groups. With the 2-for-1 deal, we paid the grand total of £14 for both of us. Bargain!
The creator of BW, Dr Gunther von Hagens, is the mastermind of a body preservation technique called "plastination". According to the website, plastination involves draining the body of fat and fluids to prevent decomposition. Ick! From what I gather, the body is then filled with liquid plastic, which hardens and facilitates permanence. Anyway, von Hagens decided that plastination would be the perfect vehicle for educating people about the anatomy of the body. Call me cynical, but I have a feeling that von Hagens also saw this as an excellent opportunity to generate an endless flow of cash, and a method for plastinating his credit card collection!
Arriving at the O2, I insisted that we eat some lunch. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had a feeling I wouldn't want to eat afterwards. When you book your ticket, you'll receive a pre-specified time for showing up at the exhibition. In our case, our tickets told us to be there at 1pm, but we were half an hour late as we lost track of time whilst noshing on our burgers. Woops. Thankfully, this wasn't a problem. There was no queue, and we were ushered in the direction of a dark opening, towards the exhibition.
Upon entering, a plaque told us that the bodies and body parts contained within are used with the permission of their former owners. The first thing that struck me was the black decor everywhere. Black floors, black walls, black materials upon which the exhibits rested. Four large video screens at the entrance display people morphing from youth through to old age, Indeed, the focus of the Mirror of Time is on the life cycle, and the ageing process.
Instead of describing everything in the exhibition, I am going to describe a few of the most memorable (for me) exhibits. Please be aware that some people may find the material on display to be upsetting. I should also note that each exhibit is positioned near a plaque describing first, what it is, and second, some basic anatomical blurb.
The start of the exhibition features five glass cylinders, each of which contain a tiny embryo at various stages of development. This part of the exhibition has attracted a lot of controversy, I think primarily because it is unclear exactly how they ended up there... an embryo is not capable of giving consent. What I will say though, is that the atmosphere was very, very respectful, and there was the most complete silence. I found being in the presence of these tiny little angels (can't think of a better word for them really) to be very, very humbling. In fact, since leaving the exhibition, I cannot get out of my mind their tiny hands, and peaceful looking expressions. I didn't expect to be moved by BW, but I was instantly affected, right from the moment I saw those cylinders.
Another memorable exhibit, showed a woman kneeling, raising her open palms, upon which perched two birds, about to take flight. If my memory serves me correctly, it was called 'Phoenix rising from the Ashes'. I was moved by the accompanying blurb, which stated that ultimately as human beings, we fail to rise from the ashes (i.e. we die), but we can continue through our children - symbolised by the birds.
The bodies in the exhibit are displayed in various poses, with sections of the body opened or peeled back in order to provide the viewer with a glimpse of the anatomy underneath. It was really quite an eye-opener to see. I have only a basic understanding of biology and anatomy, so I found it incredibly interesting. With each exhibit, I was more and more astounded at the complexity of the human body. This might sound a bit strange, but I was surprised at how much the human body resembles a tree, in that it consists of lots of lots of tiny nerves that seem to grow outwards from the spine. It was stunning to see!
Surprisingly, I didn't feel as nauseated as I thought I would. The only time I felt slightly sick, was whilst looking at a man who was holding his entire skin from head to toe, in his right hand (shown in the dooyoo product photo). I could have sworn that I saw three hairs poking out from it, and I quickly moved away!
The penultimate room contains the sex and reproductive exhibits, and this room is for over-16s only. Not to go into too much description, but suffice to say that there were two bodies in a very compromising position. At this point, I will let you know that the use of cameras or mobile phones is banned. I say this because as I moved around this particular exhibit, a huge flash signified the presence of an idiot who had positioned himself before the "bits" as it were. He was quickly taken to the side, and ushered from the room. A day out wouldn't be quite the same without at least one idiot showing up somewhere!
It took us 45 minutes to walk from the start of the exhibit to the end. However, if you want to browse for longer, there is no limit to the amount of time you can spend in there. Upon reaching the end, we were given a life certificate which states: 'In recognition of resolve and commitment to embrace a healthy lifestyle, I accept physical and intellectual challenges, strive for fellowship and aim to live a purposeful live in longevity'. In the spirit of this, we headed straight to the pub for a drink afterwards!
BW was quite an experience. I can honestly say that I feel it has affected me on a deep level. The atmosphere in there felt sacred, if that makes sense. Hushed, quiet, and intimate - other than the man with the camera of course! BW is not for everyone. I can imagine it could be very upsetting for some, particular the embryo (and baby) exhibits. Did BW live up to its promise as an educational experience? Yes, I think it did. It has enlightened me to the complexity of the human body. Heck, we are wandering around in these things every day! It's very interesting to take a look at what's going on inside! Well worth the price!
Body Worlds & the Mirror of Time is at the O2 Arena until the 23rd August 2009. Wheelchair access available.
I'm training as a massage therapist, and I heard about Body Worlds and thought that it would be good for me to go.
My expectations were exceeded, I went with my Mum who enjoyed it aswell, as a good day out.
I learnt loads and found that the audio was most helpful.
I was worried about seeing dead bodies, but it wasnt gory at all.
We took our time, looking at everything and it took us about 3.5 hours to get round the whole lot. You are unable to drink in there, and they dont really like you leaving for the toilet etc once you're in unless you're desperate!
We were there for 10am on Saturday morning, by about 12:30 it had got really busy, my advice would be to get there early.
Good for all ages, just for a day out, audio is worthwhile if you want to go for more educational purposes.
I spent most of the last week in Burnley, near Manchester, visiting one of my relatives and for a day out her son took us to see the Body Worlds 4 exhibition at Manchester Science Museum. The difficulty with this is although it was at the museum it's a short term exhibit and the only real part of the museum we visited, so I can't review the actual museum (probably a good job considering the length of this). The basic idea is that it is a display of dead bodies which is meant to educate the general public.
Cost: £10 adult
....... £8 student/elderly
........ £7 child - which is 16 and under
Dates: 22nd Feb - 29th June
Location: Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester, M3 4FP
=== ===What is it=== ===
A German scientist called Gunther von Hagens has compiled a travelling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts that he prepares using a technique called plastination which he invented himself in the July 1977. The Body Worlds exhibition was first shown in Tokyo in 1995 and has since been shown all over Europe and America, with the latest show of Body Worlds 4 being at Manchester Science Museum. The original Body Worlds exhibition contained 25 full body plastinates showing certain parts of the human body in their original format, whilst also containing over 200 different organs, some with different diseases in different glass cases. Each exhibit has a description explaining what it is next to it, and there are certain parts of literature included as well. All the bodies used have been donated by people before they died and then been used by Gunther von Hagens as he wishes.
=== ===Gunther von Hagens=== ===
Dr. Gunther von Hagens was born in 1945, in Alt-Skalden, Posen, Poland--which was then part of Germany. When he was a baby his parents fled his home land to escape Russian occupation and settled in Greiz where he remained until he was 19. As a child he was diagnosed with a rare bleeding disorder that meant he had to spend long periods in hospital, he has stated that it was when he was six and nearly died from the illness that he really began to see the nurses and doctors as his saviours and decided that he wanted to become a physician. In 1965, Gunther von Hagens entered medical school at the University of Jena. His unique ideas and outgoing personality were already noted in academic reports from the university, but although they discussed his techniques most agreed that his unusual way of doing things was always in the best interest of the university. While at the university he began to question the politics of the time, and when trying to cross into Austria was caught, detained and at the age of 23, put into prison for 2 years. He stated; "When they first arrested me, a kind guard felt sorry for me and left a window open so that I could escape. I hesitated and did not take the opportunity. Because of not using my logic, I was locked up for two years. This was a lesson I never forgot: When a good proposition presents itself, seize it, because if you don't, you may live to regret it". In 1977 Dr. von Hagens invented Plastination, his groundbreaking technology for preserving specimens which is used to create the BODY WORLDS exhibitions. He patented the method and over the next six years spent all his energy working on his invention. In 1992, Dr. Gunther von Hagens married Dr. Angelina Whalley, a physician who works as his business manager and is the designer of the BODY WORLDS exhibitions. Dr. Von Hagens has three children, Rurik, Bera and Tona.
Information from: http://www.koerperwelten.de/Downloads/BW_StudentGuide_corr_150507.pdf
=== ===Plastination=== ===
As stated above plastination is a form of body preservation invented by Gunther von Hagens, basically 70% of the human body is fluid which is necessary for living and eventually for decomposing. The idea of plastination is that these fluids and fats are replaced with reactive plastics which will not decompose, such as silicone rubber, or polyester resin, in a special vacuum. These plastics then harden when exposed to gas, light or heat curing which ensures that they are durable and firm. At first they are soft and flexible whish allows them to be moved into shapes and poses such as a football player or a swimmer, and when it hardens it freezes the bodies into position The specimens are dry, odourless and 'graspable', and as such are suitable both for educating medical students and exhibiting to the general public.
=== ===Exhibit types=== ===
There are several different types of exhibit in the Body Worlds, the whole body specimens take 1500 hours of dedicated work to produce, and show the body dissected to show the minute details of nerves and muscles. The 'exploded-view' specimens have the body parts moved in all different directions to show the body as a whole, and the 'open-door' specimens are almost hinged which allows a full inspection of the inner body. Another style of exhibit is the 'sheet-plastinate' which involves slices being cut from a frozen organ or body before plastination, and the sizes of these slices will vary depending on the part of the body they are from, for example 3.5mm for the brain and 5mm for a slice of the abdomen. There are a large amount of these cross sections throughout the museum, although there is only one full body plastinates which is made up entirely of these 'slices'.
=== ===Some main exhibits=== ===
The Swimmer: An exhibit in which the body has been divided into two halves, the organs have been left in their original positions in whichever side of the body they are normally in. You can actually see from the form of the body, the muscle shape and the size of the heart as well as the lungs that the specimen was a swimmer in life, and the pose that the exhibit has been put into emphasises the usual pose that a swimmer would be in when in the water.
Body Slices: Possibly the best exhibit in the show in which the whole body has been cut into slices of different dimensions and thickness and then spread over 20 feet so you can actually look between each of the slices in it's correct position in the body and see a cross-section of that part of the body and exactly what it really looks like as well as the dimensions. For example being able to see the brain in about 4 different cross sections.
The Split Jumper: Basically it was a cut away of the body so it showed the brain and spine at the back, internal organs as a front, and the left and right sides of the body split to either side. This allows the observer to see far more of the internal organs than many of the other exhibits...even if it does look slightly like an alien!
The Poker playing trio: Featured in the movie Casino Royale (2006), in the player on the right, both parietal bones were lifted to make the brain visible from behind. The brain has been horizontally sectioned and folded out. Beneath it is the cerebellum, below which the spinal cord is visible inside the vertebral canal. In the player on the left, the abdomen has been opened, giving a view of the intestinal loops. (Wikipedia)
=== ===Sources=== ===
For plastination to have continued for its time period sources need to be found for different specimens and they get them from the following places:
*From people who in life declared that they would want to be of use to science after their death and have signed the forms stating that they agree to be plastinated.
* From local authorities in China and Russia donate unclaimed corpses to the project
* Specimens from former anatomical collections, which are sometimes more than 100 years old.
=== ===Ethics=== ===
There has been a great deal of discussion on the ethics of von Hagens work, some religious organisations will always disagree with using deceased bodies in such a way to display to the masses, although considering that they believe that the soul leaves the body once dead there should be no complaint. Others such as the Catholic Church states that he is cheapening human life because it shows no reverence to the human body and is far more artistic than educational (this was one of my complaints as well, as I will explain below).
The use of children and babies has caused a fair amount of controversy, firstly because they cannot give informed consent and this it is therefore dependent on the parents, and secondly because people have an instinctive reaction about children and seeing them dead will cause complaint as it just seems wrong.
In an ethical analysis, Thomas Hibbs, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University, compares the cadaver displays to pornography in that they reduce the subject to "the manipulation of body parts stripped of any larger human significance." This would appear to be a rather harsh comparison but you can see where he is coming from.
Personally though I can see no real ethical problem with the display, yes some people may be offended by it, yes some people may be feel that it is too gruesome, and yes some people will have religious objections to the project. The basic line here is, if you want to go, then go, if you don't - then stop complaining.
=== ===My thoughts=== ===
Now, ethical considerations aside as I have just explained I can see none, I felt there were good and bad points to the exhibition. Overall, I cannot say I enjoyed it for reasons I will explain, but there some good points as well.
Considering I was viewing this exhibition at a science museum I was, fairly understandably, expecting a scientific demonstration. Now, to give credit, some of them were; the swimmer, the split jumper, the admiral, and the body split into slices, all of these were based on science and had great educational value, as you could see the body in ways that it had never been seen before. None of them were gruesome, but showed and explained the way the body was made up. Likewise the exhibits of single body parts in the glass cases were fitting fore a scientific exhibition. My main complaint with this was that many of the exhibits were not science but art, now had I been in art museum that would have been acceptable, but this was portrayed as a scientific exhibition that was aimed at educating a community about the biology of the human body. There were two specimens that really demonstrate this, the first would be the poker players and the second one was the piece where the woman was portrayed as leaving her skin on the rock behind her and rising from it, now granted they were made with an immense amount of skill, but I learned very little from them. It was very much an artist showing off, rather than a scientist demonstrating his skill.
My second complaint with the exhibition was how patronising the information was. This was particularly obvious with the specimens in the glass cases, the information that was given about them was of the style that any child learns at about 13, and that's before GCSE's. I went in expecting to learn something new, but instead found that the information on the cases itself was almost enough to put me off. Yes, children will be going to see the exhibition, but the information should not be dumbed down so much solely so it can be understood by a child. The parents should be able to explain the basis of each specimen without those of us who do know something of biology (and I am by no means an expert) finding that we are being patronised to the hilt.
However, the main thing that really aggravated me was the sheer arrogance of Gunther von Hagen, and this to me was shown in a series of different ways. Firstly, relating to my original point, he seems to think of himself as an 'artist extraordinaire', the positioning of many of the bodies was so obviously showing off. I don't know why this annoyed me as much as it did...perhaps because this was meant to be science not art, or maybe because I couldn't see it as art. Secondly, the application form. Now, if you were writing an application form would you put 'people often ask, with respect, awe and admiration, what motives you have for donating your body for plastination?' Three guesses which bit got my goat? Yep, 'with respect, awe and admiration', this is flattering the donor's ego and hinting at the answer they should be giving, and that to me is not the way a scientific donor form should be phrased. The overwhelming impression I got from this show was arrogance, and I automatically take a dislike to arrogance!
On a higher note however, much of the literature and artwork included on the walls was very interesting and actually made me stop and read, even when I was getting bored by the lack of variation in the exhibits, and I found many of them to be far more to my intellectual level than the descriptions Gunther von Hagens had written. My only issue with some of the literature, usually written by von Hagens, was that he seemed far too interested in blowing his own trumpet to actually understand the impact that the ancient scientists and doctors had on the world, for example his criticism of Galen is awful. Far too much time is spent putting them down and stating why they were wrong, rather than looking at it in the contexts of the time and understanding where they were coming from.
It was interesting to begin with, some of the exhibits count as science and the literature was interesting...unfortunately that's all the good I can say about it...
Where does the line between art and a science fall? Can the grotesque be beautiful? And why has someone bothered plasticizing hundreds of corpses? These are just a few of the questions that enter you mind whilst visiting the controversial and intriguing 'Korpenwelten'or 'Body Worlds' exhibition. Created with typical German efficiency by Professor Gunther Von Hagen and colleagues, the exhibition sets out to explore the fascinating anatomical structure of the human body. The uniqueness of the exhibition lies in that instead of using models, everything on show is constructed from real bodies. Everything preserved via a complex procedure of plasticization. The process creating carcasses that highlight the amazing complex structure of the human body. Every tendon, nerve and muscle perfectly captured. Body World is probably of interest mainly to medical students or those with a morbid fascination for dissected bodies. The positioning of some of the bodies however suggests that there is an attempt to create something approximating art. 'The Swimmer' could almost be a something from a Damon Hirst installation it's positioning recalling the infamous shark in a tank. Whilst the centrepiece "Rider on a vaulting horse" recalls the Greek statues of Alexander the Great riding his warhorse Bucephalus. The majestic stance of the horse, a product of an artistic rather than a scientific mind. Other exhibits are more comical in their positioning. One looks like it is beggaring for small change, another looks like uncannily like Robert De Niro, with it's half closed eyes and pained expression. Whilst another laterally cut up body spins around on a pole, resembling kebab meat rotating in a restaurant window. In contrast to these lighter moments other dissections and displays hint at a darker more twisted mind at work. Exhibit 619 looks like it has escaped from the pages of a Clive Barker novel, it's exp
anded body towering over you as if to strike and pull you down. Whilst another body offers his perfectly removed skin to you as an a macabre gift. It's moments like this that make you realise that the Body World is more than just dry biology and is a art statement. Which then rises ethical questions over the artistic positioning of the bodies. People may have donated there bodies for medical science but would they have improved of Van Hagen's artistic usage? A question that is raised again over the use of foetuses in one of the side rooms. Displayed in a series of jars , a variety of foetuses of different ages and ailments are on show. At the centre lies the body of a women still carrying her baby of eight months. Shockingly powerful and grotesque and the same time it's effect is overwhelming. So much that a women visitor was knelt before it saying prayers with her rosary in hand. Again questions may be raised over the ethics of this display, and some vistiors might find it disturbing and unsettlingly. However one question remains unanswered "Why leads someone to make such an effort in constructing and presenting such an exhibition?". Answers on your favourite body part to the normal address please. Body Works is at the Atlantis Gallery, Brick Lane. Entrance fee is £10. Nearest Tubes: Liverpool Street (7 mins walk) Aldgate East (5 Mins walk)
The 'Body Worlds' exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery in the East End of London has attracted a great deal of controversy, even prompting questions to be asked in the House of Commons. Essentially, it is an exhibition of dead bodies and organs, superficially presented in the name of art. The bodies and body parts have been preserved using a technique known as "plastination", developed by Professor Gunther von Hagens - a technique by which the water within the body has been replaced by resin. To my mind, the issue of whether the exhibition should go ahead or not shouldn't be a matter for governmental decree, and certainly needn't be debated before Parliament, and I find it a great affront to the nation's "democracy" that it reached that stage. I'll dwell briefly on the issue of the exhibition's ethical issues, before talking about the exhibition and my opinions of it. If this isn't something that interests you, you can skip this section without missing anything notable. ETHICS All of the people whose organs and bodies are on display in the exhibition volunteered their bodies for this style of presentation. All of the people who have gone to see the exhibition have known what they were going to see, and have chosen to pay their entrance fee to do so. Why then do some people feel the need to attack the exhibition? So far, after only a week of being open, there have been two attacks on the exhibits - one person threw a blanket over an exhibit before throwing paint around, and the other attacked one of the exhibits with a hammer. Well, it seems that some people in this country have a skewed understanding of democracy. If something offends them, then therefore it's wrong and corrupting for anyone else to experience it - why let people make up their own minds, when you can make them up for them? This is the same mentality that keeps the Daily Mail's sales going. The second of the two attacks substantially damaged the exhibit - one entitled 'The Organ Donor', a skilfully dissected body, split vertically to expose the internal organs. In the figure's right hand, the body holds its cirrhosis-covered liver as though offering it to visitors. Now, even if the concept of that exhibit disgusts you, you can surely accept that that body was once a living human, who donated their body to the exhibition to be displayed in that way. Who is more wronged by the "demonstrator's" actions? The patron, deprived of the chance to see a skilfully presented piece of work, or the man who donated his body to the exhibition only to have it mutilated in a thoughtless act of vandalism? Well, OK, you can probably see where I stand on that issue, but I think the point does stand. I think that it's scary for the state of British democracy that questions about the exhibition were raised in Parliament. As I say earlier, those on display have all agreed to be, those who've chosen to see it have all known what they're going to see. As ever, the media and the government turn to its increasing band of misguided but vocal public rent-a-mouths. Ideally, for this situation, they could stick cameras in the faces of those parents affected by the insensitive treatment of their childrens' bodies at Alder Hey hospital. With sickening insensitivity, the press ask them for their opinions on a ridiculously different situation, and reproduces their reactions as though they were more worthwhile that yours or mine. (cf Leah Betts' parents every time someone dies of drug abuse, or Sharron Storey every time there's a story about inadequate health care, or Denise Fergus every time an issue concerning youth justice needs a spokesperson). These aren't experts in the field, nor do they generally have any substantial understanding of the situation. Yet, nonetheless, their tragedies are supposed to make their
opinions more valuable. The tabloid press, fuelled by statements made by Nobel Prize winner Gunther Grass, have drawn comparisons between Hagens' work and that of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who carried out unspeakable experiments on concentration camp prisoners at Auschwitz. This is a spectacularly fallacious comparison. Mengele's victims were not willing participants, Hagens' exhibits were all willing volunteers. Quite aside from the fact that Mengele's torture was carried out on the living, whereas Hagens' treatment is only carried out post mortem. The only reason to draw a comparison like this is to queer public opinion against the exhibition. So ultimately, the decision about going to the exhibition is one that every visitor has to make on their own. If you don't like the idea of seeing partially-dissected human bodies put on display as works of art, then don't go and see the exhibition. If you don't think anyone else should see it, or think they need to be made aware of the controversial nature of the exhibits, why not start a leaflet campaign or stand outside the exhibition and talk to those going in. Don't destroy - to use my own brand of tabloid sensationalism, that's one step away from book burning. THE EXHIBITION Phew, having got that rant out of the way, it's time to talk about the exhibition itself. Hagens' exhibition has toured the world over the last few years, since 1997, attracting millions of visitors. This is its first visit to the United Kingdom, and the gallery chosen for the display is a former brewery in the East End of London. The gallery space is a little smaller than others within which the work has been displayed, and for this reason, some of the exhibits are missing. The Old Truman Brewery, now known as the Atlantis Gallery, is situated on Brick Lane, flanked by rows of Bangladeshi restaurants. If you're not familiar with the area, it will
take substantially longer than the leaflet's claimed "7 minutes" to get to the gallery from Liverpool Street station, as you wind through the rabbit warren of narrow East End streets. Although I'm sure it's quite safe, single female visitors to the exhibition may want to make the journey during the hours of daylight, because the walk can seem quite menacing after dark. Tickets can either be booked in advance over the internet (in which case, you have to pay a £2.50 booking fee per ticket, and print and cut them out) or bought at the exhibition on the day. The queue was quite long to buy tickets on the day when I visited, though I suspect that as the controversy dies down, the queues will shorten. Audio guides to the exhibition are available, and cost £2. If you listen to the full audio guide, touring the exhibition will take two and a half hours. I managed without the audio guide, and found that the labels on all the exhibits provided more than enough information, and still took around two hours to tour the exhibition. The exhibition itself is split between three rooms within the gallery. The first, smallest room, on the ground floor, begins by showing the human skeleton and giving a vague introduction to anatomy. The second room, the exhibition's largest, contains the majority of the exhibits and is organised by anatomical system, starting with the locomotive system, through the circulatory and digestive systems, through to the reproductive organs. The third room consists of two elements - pre-natal development and blood vessel arrangement within the whole body. Given the attention that the exhibition has received as an "art exhibition", the presentation is remarkably educational and clinical, which will probably surprise many visitors. Where much of the press attention has focused on individual pieces - the man on a horse, the reclining pregnant woman, or the chess player - little has been mad
e of the way that these pieces are actually presented in the exhibition. All of the figures are accompanied by heavily-labelled pictures pointing out organs, muscles and bones (as appropriate), and text explaining why the body has been arranged in this way. For example, the figure of the man on a horse is accompanied by a block of text suggesting that visitors compare the musculature and bone structure of the man with the horse. The chess-playing figure has been dissected to expose the structure of nerves leading off from the spinal cord, and the text encourages visitors to look for the path of the large sciatic nerve. In addition to these "whole body" plastinates, in each section of the exhibition, individual organs are put on display in glass cabinets. In each cabinet, two or three "normal, healthy" organs are displayed, alongside increasingly diseased or mistreated organs. For example, in the respiratory system section of the exhibition, normal lungs are displayed alongside the lungs of a "twenty-a-day" smoker, a tuberculosis sufferer, and a pair of cancer-ravaged lungs. Probably the most upsetting of these were the aortas on display. The smooth inner surface of a healthy aorta was displayed alongside aortas with hardened walls due to arterial sclerosis - the build-up of fatty deposits on the aorta walls. A fourth specimen of an aorta is bloated and contorted out of shape with enormous blood clots and aneurysms. It's a particularly harrowing exhibit, almost begging a "Repent Now! It's Not To Late!" sign to be hung nearby. First and foremost, it seems that the exhibition's purpose is an educational one - giving its visitors a spectacular chance to see the internal workings of the body first hand. However, the dissection is not skilful enough, at least to my mind, to be greatly to medical students. A degree of artistry has been carried out in the dissection to make them more aestheticall
y pleasing, and yet retain a degree of educational value to the non-expert. For example, one of the exhibits that I found most fascinating in the exhibition, entitled "The Runner" shows a body posed in a running stance. The muscles have been separated from the skeleton at the "inner" attachment, and splayed out, as though forming lines of movement. From a superficial, non-medical point of view, it's an educational piece because it shows the sheer number of muscles that contribute to fluid human movement. However, I couldn't help thinking that a medic would gain little from the exhibit, in that it was impossible to see where the separated ends of the muscles once attached to the body - and it was here that I felt aesthetics and art had overtaken education. Not that I'm saying that it was a bad thing. The exhibition wasn't put on for medical students, but for the public, and I had to keep reminding myself of this. However, my ultimate conclusion was that the artistic value of the display would be more appreciable to someone who had previously seen human dissections. For someone for whom this is their first experience of human dissections, the educational value is probably vastly greater, at least at first. CONCLUSIONS In many ways, I found the exhibition highly fascinating, however, I found it hard to escape the feeling that I was walking through a modern equivalent of the Victorian freak show. As you walk around, looking at contorted spines, deformed aborted foetuses, polycystic kidneys and hypertrophic hearts, it can be an upsetting experience. The "whole body" plastinates, by contrast, are in many ways, less shocking. The blurring of the boundary between art and education largely depends upon the individual visitor's familiarity with anatomy. Both myself and the friend I visited the exhibition with had carried out numerous dissections (admittedly not on humans) during our
Biology course, and I felt this made it easier to appreciate the aesthetics of the presentation, without getting drawn too much into the educational presentation that the exhibition concentrates on. The aesthetics of the presentation, once you get past the educational value, is pretty good. The presentation of some of the whole body plastinates, such as the reclining pregnant woman and the "muscleman with his skeleton" are very striking. The pregnant woman's pose is strangely reminiscent of the women of Renaissance paintings. Ultimately, I couldn't help thinking that despite the uniqueness of the exhibition, the entrance fee (£10 for adults) is prohibitively high. It's an exhibition that is definitely worth seeing, even if only to shock you into actually doing something about your health! Those Bangladeshi restaurants along Brick Lane that seemed so appealing on your way to the exhibition suddenly seem a little less enticing.