Sunday, August 29, 2010

#44 - Bodies

I've been saying I wanted to go see this exhibition for just over a year now - and FINALLY, now that it's on my list, I went...
So, was it everything I'd expected? Yes, and no. It was fascinating, seeing every tendon, every muscle, every blood vessel and every bone in this amazing machine of ours. It made me feel that my body was even more precious and more magnificent that I'd ever imagined. And further, I had a sort of out of mind/out of body experience when I started realizing how much goes on in my body without second thought, without me having to actually tell it to do something. Isn't that scary? We think ourselves so powerful, so "in control", and yet things that make us so, are completely out of our control, even out of our conscious thought process. Creepy.
And so the exhibits went on: Muscles, Blood Vessels, Resperatory System, Digestive System, The Fetus, Reproductive System, the Brain...
As the exhibition came to an end, they had a booth where you could actually touch and pick up some organs. The girl stationed there was nice enough, and well enough informed. She first showed us the brain and let us handle it for a bit, and then a liver. This liver was heavy! So I say, "Holy shit! Forget this crazy diet, all I need to lose 10 pounds is to get rid of my liver!" Well, of course, everyone on my side of the booth got the humour in it and laughed heartily... but the girl stationed there was almost insulted. I couldn't get if she thought I was being serious, and was therefore a complete moron (but even that would've been funny) or if she was genuinly affronted by my silliness. To try and mend the situation, I got all serious again, and started asking more intelligent questions. So I asked, more just to confirm what I'd already thought, if all the bodies had been donated by the people themselves or by their families for the greater good of science. And here is where my day at the museum went south... These bodies were all unclaimed bodies and all donated by the Chinese Governement for the project. I highly doubt anyone would've minded if scientists were deep in research using their bodies in a lab even without their consent. But to have them publicly displayed, so de-humanized without their permission? It's an abomination. Where before I thought that them leaving the lips and eyebrows and nails on the bodies as the only remanants of what the person must've looked like was interesting, now I found it insulting. Where before I thought seeing a woman's breast ravaged by cancer an homage to her battle, now I felt it was a perfect invasion of her privacy, her life and everything she must have suffered though. I think that had I know this prior to going, maybe I wouldn't have gone. Or maybe I just would've looked at everything differently, perhaps somehow in a way trying to imagine the life that those muscles and heart and brain had seen. I think, at the very least, I would've cared more. 


  1. I didn't expect this post to be so thought provoking, but your comments at the end have actually got me feeling differently about the exhibit.
    I assumed, as you did, that the bodies were donated by the deceased or families.
    What a twist.
    And the Chinese government too!
    Where did the organs that you handled come from?

  2. It's interesting, because Body Worlds was composed of 'volunteer' bodies, people who had specifically willed themselves to this plastination process... and I totally felt it was art, not science at all. But I would have felt exactly like you, that they were being degraded and invaded, if they had been donated by a government which obviously had corpses aplenty...

  3. Hi Kerry - I had no idea there were 2 different shows - I really thought it was going to be more like what you saw, artistic. But it was definitely done from the scientific perspective, and obviously really shocked me when I found out at the end (of all times).I've just gone to look at the the Body Worlds website and I think I'm going to have to add it to my list! Looks fascinating in a totally different way.

  4. And P.S. Kerry... THANK YOU for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!