Over the weekend I went with my family to see the BODY WORLDS exhibit at its stop in St. Paul, MN. If you haven't been subject to all the promotion and are not aware, BODY WORLDS is an exhibit of specially preserved human bodies that have been prepared and put on display by a German physician named Dr. Gunther von Hagens. He has developed this technique that replaces the water and fat with plastics that preserve the tissue and leave it quite natural in appearance. He then poses the preserved bodies in ways that are both artistic and educationally realistic at the same time. In a style that is unusual for this sort of display, he even signs his finished works, furthering the impression that the finished display is a work of art.
It is a strange combination to have human bodies presented as works of art. The specimens are certainly artistically presented, and the final result is something that is striking to see. They are simultaneously visually interesting to look at, and also intellectually interesting to see. It is borderline creepy to have these actual dead bodies all around, but they are presented in a way that seems to deflect most of that feeling. The displays are just enough out of the ordinary that they don't seem to be quite real, and so it is possible to look at them as interesting exhibits rather than as posed dead bodies.
In addition to the couple dozen nearly whole bodies that are on display, there are lots of preserved body parts that are arranged in ways that allow one to see how the various parts work together and what they look like up close. Some are fairly classic examples of joints, ligaments, organs and so on, and then there are also examples of reconstructed parts - bones with plates, artificial hips, replacement knees and heart valves. Given that all of the donors were people who had presumably lived a full life and been recipients of the usual medical care it is not surprising that there would be quite a few of these sorts of examples. There were also several displays that compared diseased organs with healthy ones. Not surprisingly, there were quite a few examples of lungs that had been ruined by cigarette smoking, and a variety of different cancers and tumors.
For anyone who isn't terribly squeamish about seeing this sort of thing it is certainly worth making an effort to see. The exhibits allow an insight into the way we are built that you just don't get any other way. The entire exhibition can easily be appreciated on a purely artistic basis, on an purely educational basis, or as a marvelous combination of both.