Friday, 8 January 2010

Bodies Revealed

At the very end of 2009, Ruf and I went to see the Bodies Revealed Exhibition.

For both of us, it was a very revealing and illuminating experience, particularly given our recent conversion to the wonderful world of yoga.

To be able to see the relationship between all the muscles and tendons was so useful, especially as all the bodies were in 'active' positions.

Everything had been treated with the Polymer Preservation Process, which means that the tissues look as if they are still normal flesh but in reality have been sort of fossilised in silicon.

Since the first of Gunther von Hagans' exhibitions back in 1995, Body Worlds, along with its many derivatives, has received a lot of publicity, some good and some bad because of the source of the exhibits. When I mentioned to Softboy that I was going to see it, he said that he had really wanted to go but refused to do so when he was told that the bodies were those of Chinese political prisoners. I don't know the exact truth about their origins and I tried to put thoughts like that out of my mind and just learn as much as I could from what I was seeing.

According to my research, this accusation was first levelled back in 2006 and was strenuously denied. Certainly, the Bodies Revealed website says that the cadavers were all willingly donated to the scientific community and this is something that a lot of people do have written into their Wills. It's a bit like organ donation, I suppose, because giving your body up for medical research will preserve lives in the future.

A physiotherapist friend, who went on a course that utilised cadavers to help the students to learn exactly how the body works, told me that the bodies were treated with the utmost respect because being able to use them is such a huge gift to the living.

He said that to see a human body, complete with its fascia - the envelope of connective flesh that runs beneath the skin and links all the constituent parts of the body together - was amazing. In all the anatomy books, this section has been removed so that the muscles and tendons are not obscured. And yet the fascia is just as important as those more obvious connectors.

In certain relaxation poses, the pressure of the fascia on the brain caused by the positioning of the legs acts as a massage and this helps to stimulate the feel good endorphins which allow the person to truly enter a totally relaxed state.

Having tried the position myself, which is similar to the 'recovery position', I can vouch for the general sense of well being that ensues.

I had been forewarned about the section on the unborn child. The glass jars, in various sizes depending upon the developmental stage of their sad contents, was simultaneously fascinating and upsetting, given the procedure that I was forced to undergo a couple of years ago. But, with Ruf's arm around me... and I guess that's the real difference from that horrible time... I was able to reflect and learn, with just a silent prayer for all those babies. In some of the samples, it was possible to see the defect that had stopped their journey into the real world.

For more information about the exhibition and the processes involved in preparing the bodies themselves, click here


Ro said...

Ahhhhhh {imagine a huge grin}! I went to that first UK exhibition in an out-of-the-way gallery in the East End of London all those years ago.

I was fascinated by it, as were the kids I took along. While some of the health-related exhibits were rather gross, I came away with a new appreciation of the wonder that is the human body. It's just so complex, all those parts working together so beautifully.

I still have the book tucked away somewhere. I must dig it out. In the meantime, thanks for the reminder :-)

Dee said...

While I find Gunther a little weird (His Freddie Krueger hat is a conversation piece lol), he is quite affable, but these exhibitions are interesting. This exhibition has toured all over the world, and it is a controversial exhibition. When I went, there were protestors outside the exhibit.
Your post reminded me of my days at university, with my study group, memorizing various body parts and vessels and it's true. Bodies are respected (and mockery wasn't approved of), for the knowledge they bring and they each contain an individual life history of the individual.

Joanna Cake said...

Ro, the guidebook was £12.50!! So, at £14 each to get in, we decided enough was enough.

Dee - It wasn't until I looked up about the allegations over the Chinese prisoners that I realised how long it had been around. Im still not quite sure about all the different names and whether this exhibition has anything to do with Gunther at all.

Whatever, it was a fascinating afternoon, although on a very wet late December afternoon, there weren't many people around...

Dee said...

It kind of makes it all a little creepier (with fewer people around). Has the controversy died down where you are though? It seems to follow the exhibition.
The technique used to preserve the bodies was innovated by Gunther. I don't know if he makes a profit, but he has patented the plastinating technique.

Joanna Cake said...

Dee, I think it will always be a 'controversial' exhibition in some ways. Because of the concept and nature of the exhibits.

I saw it in Birmingham and, as I said, it wasn't that busy due to the weather and the time of year but I believe that it was well supported when it first opened back in November.

There will always be those who feel that it is some sort of religious abomination but I am firmly of the belief that anything which can help us learn how to help ourselves has got to be a good thing.

Certainly, in the room with the babies, I said a silent prayer but, since I'm already an organ donor, it isn't such a giant leap to donate my body to medical science. It was my daughter who commented that, as a very short sighted smoker, her organs probably wouldnt be much good to anyone, so she'd like to give her body for use in some way. Coming from a teenager, I think that's quite a worthy sentiment and one we should all think about.

mago said...

It is an exhibition I will not visit, and I can not explain why.
I saw autopsies (Leichenöffnung), I worked in a collection of medical history (not long, a contract, did some catalogue), I visited other historical collections of wax-exhibits, saw a collection of human bodies illustrating the results of agent orange (VietNam) which made me reach for booze and get seriously drunk ... but i will not go there and see Hagens' work. I can not.

Joanna Cake said...

Mago - Wow, you've certainly seem some far worse stuff.

Tbh, the idea of it did rather creep me out but once I was there, it wasnt scary at all. I worked on the basis that these generous people had given their bodies so that I could learn from them and I thanked them for it.

It was a bit like looking at fossilised human remains I suspect, only far less fragile and in better condition.