Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Body Art

by Andre on 18 November 2005

Last night I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia. It wasn’t as awesome as I was hoping, but it provided enough wonder to keep me satisfied.

A few things struck me right away about the exhibit. In addition to the incredible level of preservation and careful dissection that I was expecting based on pictures, I was surprised to find that the plastinates, as they call them, were not enclosed in glass, but were just standing on pedestals so that you could get arbitrarily close. I was assuming it was forbidden, but I was surprised that there were no signs telling visitors not to touch the plastinates and based on their emphatic pointing I can only assume that many people were only just barely able to restrain themselves from an all-out pat down.

I can’t decide what impressed me the most. Some of the highlights in my opinion were the pregnant woman and the vascular family. To isolate the vascular system apparently they injected a red polymer into the subjects and then used a variety of enzymes to eat away the surrounding flesh. The result is incredible. For plenty of examples do a google images search for body worlds.

The exhibit has been very popular worldwide, but is has also drawn some criticism. While I didn’t have any strong visceral reaction to the displays, I can certainly imagine how some people would respond negatively to the artistic aspects of the presentation. I certainly left with the impression that many of the “poses” were planned specifically to shock, rather than educate people. For example, what’s not shown in this picture of the jumping man is what’s used to support him. In fact, his brain and spine have been ripped out and bent back 180 degrees forming a strange kind of crutch. It’s an interesting idea, and given the care that was taken in the preparation I don’t think it can be called disrespectful, but like I said, I can understand that some people will disagree.

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