If this comes even close to your area or even your region of the country I urge, nay, implore you to go see it. Well worth the clams.
I first heard of the Body exhibition from a friend who saw it when it first opened in Tampa. He brought back a pink spray-painted brain and policy-defiant photos which he used to make me fiercely jealous. And that was even before I knew what this exhibition was all about. So, what is it all about?
"BODIES... The Exhibition" aims to educate the what has previously been unavailable to the general public: an unprecedented look through astounding (and some might say blatant) detail of the inner nature of the human body. It aims to answer the question "what are we?" What I hoped to get out of it was more than an anatomy lesson, but to maybe gain some insight into the more illusive human nature -- that is "who are we?"
In my opinion, you can’t properly appreciate this exhibit without acknowledging the history that preceded it. As far back as there is record, there has been an interest in the inner workings of the body. The Egyptians, the Greeks, and all the great civilizations that followed had amazing knowledge of body components even if they sometimes missed the mark as to function. We all know that European history of anatomy has meandered through occasional prohibition and allowance. It is shaped by ecclesiastical polity, controversy, intrigue and innovation. The Christian ideals that hindered the advancement of medical knowledge in some respects actually facilitated the same. Since the body that was left behind wasn’t quite so sacred anymore then autopsies and dissections were on… but only on those people who didn’t matter much, so to speak. In other words, convicted criminals. Thus was the contradiction of religion and society and thus became Britain’s Murder Act of 1752 and a similar act that followed allowing a destitute population to be tapped for research purposes. But that was centuries ago. We’ve all new standards now, right?
Rumors abound that no “decent” people were harmed in the making of “BODIES.” A relief to some? Actually, the possibility the bodies used (sans owner consent) are those of executed murderers is one of the primary reasons for opposition to this exhibition. After all, the Murder Act of 1752 has been superseded many times over. But what’s really the issue? Human rights? Legal issues? Western opposition to China’s shady ways? My own father resisted strong interest to see this exhibit for fear his attendance would somehow condone Chinese torture practices. Really? I mean, if you’re going to object to anything, object to the ostentatious overuse of basketballs which is clearly a transparent way to put an egotistical American stamp on the project. By the way, after I’m dead, feel free to do what you want with my parts as I am fairly certain I won’t require them any longer but please don’t involve sports paraphernalia.
Basketballs and international intrigue aside, I have to say the most curious part of this exhibition was not an exhibit at all. It was the sign placed before the fetal exhibit room warning visitors that they may find the subject matter within disturbing. I found this really intriguing. Is it for those guests whose Victorian sensibilities haven’t already been assaulted by the flayed abdominal cavities and de-mystified sexual organs? Why do the adult bodies invite inspection and awe while the fetus, from whence all these magnificent structures develop, remains too sacred to view? As it turns out, no matter how much we dissect and peel apart and expose the mysteries of the human body, it does nothing to explain why we’re all such silly and emotional creatures. It’s one of the great lessons this exhibition drives home.
Now if you really want to get your money’s worth you should stand in the circulatory room an hour or so and count how many times you overhear people say "wow... just like trees!!" During my visit this occurred over and over ad nauseum, but rightfully so. This is what the developers of this exhibit wanted you to know: our bodies don’t merely mimic nature, or vice versa, but we are nature. Nature is us. We are brilliant and wondrous and this exhibit is evidence of that. That’s not obscene and it doesn’t denounce the supreme being you want to believe in. I don’t think these displays negate the sacrosanctity of our own bodies – quite the opposite in fact. I can’t understand how anything other than severe self-hatred would prevent anyone from understanding that. More evidence, I suppose, that humans are unexplainable no matter how thoroughly you dissect them.
All right, back to the history lesson. Recall that modern anatomy has a long history of intrigue, innovation and controversy to thank and “BODIES” certainly has all these. But pull further back and marvel at the most important point of all: that it’s here at all. Millions of men, women (and don’t even get me started on the history of the role of women in medicine… and society) and even children endured being queued for hours and paid a goodly amount to see this exhibition. Now, real progress would be eliminating the queue. However, I like to think our ancient predecessors would be pleased. No matter where you stand on the Chinese dudes, you have to admit these modern times we live in are pretty cool.
And so this exhibition finds its place among the great innovations of anatomy. And in its inability to explain the essence that’s within, it underscores how truly unique we are. And maybe what makes some people so uncomfortable is the possibility that if we keep this up, we may very well find out what that mysterious essence is. And no one wants that, right? After all, if we take away all the mystery, all the controversy, and all the intrigue you’re left with just… bodies. And who would want to pay to see just a bunch of dead bodies?
Ok, yeah, we probably all know someone like that. And we probably make sure to keep our children away from them.
BTW, this production company also puts on a show called STAR TREK... The Exhibition. OH YEAH! I'd give my gold-framed Patrick Stewart collector card to go to that!
(Photograph shamelessly robbed from BODIES... The Exhibition)