Saturday, 31 May 2008

Cadaver nice day

This past week being half term, I've attempted to make sure I've had a good rest to relax and recharge before heading back into school next week. However, I also went with my girlfriend Hayley on a day trip to Manchester. I won't recount all the ins and outs of the whole day as what we had for lunch and which shops we did and didn't go in I'm fairly certain is of no particular interest to anybody but Hayley and myself (I feel it's worth mentioning that travel was a bit of a nightmare, however; seemingly a hangover from the bank holiday weekend, but really the only disappointing part of the day). I would like to give my reaction to the Body Worlds exhibition that we went to see at the Museum Of Science And Industry.

I remember the general reaction to this exhibition when it first started, which is apparently around ten years ago (longer than I had thought), being somewhat mixed. Some people found it a fascinating display of scientific endeavour and the human form; others saw it as an abomination and a way of cashing in on death. Having not had a particular opinion on the rights and wrongs of the exhibition before visiting, but at the same time being curious and eager to see it, my reaction after attending Body Worlds falls firmly in the former camp.

The exhibition is incredibly tasteful and respectful in its composition. There is nothing macabre or grotesque about the bodies on display. Even those bodies that have been dissected more intricately so that the inner workings of human beings can be seen have a definite dignity; the feeling throughout the exhibition is one of celebration of the beauty of the human body and Gunther von Hagens' clear dedication and reverence of the body and science in general.

It's a strange experience viewing preserved bodies on display. The plastination process used to preserve the bodies gives them a feeling of being half real people and half artificial dummies. My brain regularly did not register that I was looking at people who used to be alive, and I often found myself telling myself that I was looking at actual human beings in order to fully appreciate the incredible nature of the preservation.

As for the moral side of things, I didn't have a problem with it at all. One of the most striking things I saw in the exhibition wasn't a preserved body but a copy of a body donation form, which people use to donate their bodies to von Hagens' research and exhibitions. The person who had filled in the form told of how he had looked after his body throughout his life and had originally intended to be cremated after his death, but after viewing the Body Worlds exhibition had decided that he wanted his body to be used in the same way to help educate and further scientific progression. It was clear throughout that what was being done to the bodies was what the people had wanted when they were alive. None of the bodies had any information about the people they used to be, however, as von Hagens wanted his exhibition to be about the human body and not individual life stories.

I could go on for paragraphs about the exhibition, but nothing will do it justice. You simply need to go and see it to find out what it's like to see human bodies in this way. I have no qualms about the exhibition. In no way does it seem exploitative to me, and if von Hagens is profiting from his work then he is no different to anyone else. He invented the plastination process and has used it to educate and fascinate, so why shouldn't he make his living from his life's work?

As a final note, an overheard conversation between two women at the exhibition went something like this:

"I thought there would be more of a smell in here."
"I know, it's actually very clean."
"Yes."
"I mean, if you go up very close to them then there is a bit of a smell. I leaned in and sniffed that body over there and there was a slight smell, but nothing horrible."

I just hope that at some point in her life, that person realises that she sniffed a dead body. In public.

1 comment:

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

i am in agreement with you. I never took the opportunity, whilst living in manchester to go see this exhibit, which was probably mostly to do with lack of money (if it actually cost anything, if not then laziness), but one of my friends did and she enjoyed it. For me it totally comes down to the permission thing. If von whatever dug up bodies then I'd have a problem, but seeing that these people donated their bodies, fully understanding what they where doing I really can't see how people can have a problem with it. If it bothers them, then they should go and see it.