By Melody Parker
The full-body specimen of a man, whose outstretched hand displays tendons and nails completely intact, greets visitors as they enter the elegantly decorated maze-like corridors of the Body Worlds 2 Exhibition.
The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose recently showcased the collaborative work of German anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens and his wife, physician and artist Dr. Angelina Whalley. The exhibition includes a rare display of 200 specimens of preserved human bodies previously featured in museums across the globe, including displays in London, Brussels and Singapore. The exhibit also includes individual human organs, full skinless bodies and transparent, sliced cross-sections of the human body.
The specimens remain intact and sealed from decomposition through a treatment called plastination, developed by Dr. von Hagens in 1977. Plastination is a vacuum process in which human specimens are “injected” with a substance similar to silicone rubber. This treatment is so precise that the original cellular identity is maintained and the bodies remain odorless and durable.
Dr. von Hagens’s work breaks social norms by displaying public nudity for the sake of innovation and creativity, which echoes artistic media from literature to sculpture.
At the age of six, Dr. von Hagens narrowly escaped death from a rare bleeding disorder and spent many months in the hospital throughout his childhood. This isolation from other children and the close contact with nurses and doctors led him to pursue a career in medicine. It was his curiosity and study of the human body that allowed him to view life and death from a unique perspective.
The anatomical specimens at the Body Worlds 2 exhibition range anywhere from an 8-week-old fetus, 3 centimeters in length, to a pregnant woman with a developing fetus exposed at her abdomen. Upon exiting, the last specimen is a heavy man, whose body is cut into five-by-five-inch cubes where each section of the body is protruding to different levels, thereby exposing various layers of the inner body.
These graphic images leave a lasting imprint for many. Some visitors recoil at the sight of a naked body, while others are drawn to the new blend of science and art. Many simply stare, lost in the beauty and wonder of the human body. Dr. von Hagens’ work attracts visitors and forces one to look at the human figure from a rare and eduational perspective.
The exhibit is bizarre in its blurring of ethical lines, yet it begs an essential question: What happens after death?
Independent visitor polls from around the world in sites like Munich, Singapore, and Los Angeles revealed that approximately 57 percent of the respondents said that the Body Worlds 2 exhibition caused them to think about life and death from a new perspective.
While the exhibition continues to break taboos about displaying naked dead bodies, it opens a world to an authentic, new art form. As long as Body Worlds is presented, many will continue to be shaken from the plastic, brittle point of complacency and begin to savor life because death is inevitable.
_Body Worlds 2 was showcased at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose from Sept. 27 through Jan. 26. and is now at the Maryland Science Center until Sept. 1_