Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bodies At the Museum

Would you go to see this exhibit?

I don't think I will.

I also haven't had the courage to fill out a donor organ card yet, although I could probably be persuaded to do so if I spent some time with the appropriate person.

What do you think?
Wondrous, fascinating, educational, or just grisly, inappropriate and gratuitous?


Blogger Errantfrogs said...

I went to this exhibit when it was in Chicago. I DID NOT want to go, but something inside told me I should. I've learned to listen to that small inner voice, and I'm glad I did in that instance. While it took me some time to adjust to the "gross" factor, once I got over that, and I did, I found myself in a state of awe and wonder at the complexity, beauty, power, fragility... of the human body. The bizarre positions the exhibitor puts the bodies in are indeed controversial, and while I found a few offensive for their whimsical quality, most accentuated a particular feature of the body (nervous system, circulatory system... ) in an effective way. I saw the exhibit more than a year ago and still think of it often when considering the body, our mortality, the Buddhist aggregate of form, etc.

It can have other benefits too. A friend of mine who saw the display showing what fat really looks like under all that skin reacted so strongly she went out and lost 60 pounds in a year.

I think every minister should see this exhibit. For those of us considering the "big picture" of life & living, bearing witness to the details of the body that is the vehicle for that life is a powerful experience. Did I enjoy it? Wrong question. Am I grateful to have seen it. Yes. Absolutely.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Oh, shoot. That's what I thought someone would say.

Okay, how about this question: did you feel like you might be offending any ancestor spirits?

Also, how was the crowd? Did they seem to be titillated, tweaked out, impressed, or what?

I just really fear the ethical question of how this man obtained these bodies & whether or not he had explicit permission to plasticize them. If I can't be assured of the 100% enthusiastic and voluntary participation of all the previous occupants of the cadavers on display, I don't think I can bring myself to attend.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Cadavers are really expensive. My guess is that he's on the up and up. Would you consider giving your body for art?

I might.

Of course you could always fly to Scotland and see the new Ron Mueck show. His people are silicone and acrylic.


Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Fascinating. Not sure I'd want to be "plastinated" myself, although I'm not sure why, seeing as how I don't believe my body will serve any real purpose after I'm dead and harvested.

After years of feeling icky about it, I decided to become an organ donor. As an American of African descent, I don't feel I have much of a choice. Black Americans have a higher rate of organ rejection than other people, but they are less likely to reject organs from other African descended people.

The DH plans to donate his body to science after he dies. That made me feel funny but again, not for any rational reason. One thing neither of us likes is that apparently a number of bodies donated "to science" are used by the military to test grenades and stuff. Nice. Unfortunately, you can't stipulate that your body isn't used for such a purpose. An academy or research facility could sell your body to the government if they don't need it.

Blogger Denise said...

I went to a Bodies exhibit. I want to be plasticined when I die. my post about it.

Blogger boyinthebands said...

I've followed this story since I first heard about the exhibits on shortwave, so that was the early 90s.

I was going to blog on this issue some time back but knew I couldn't without linking to photos, which I wouldn't.

I feel like humanity's universal heritage of caring for the dead has been ripped up and sold. It is repulsive and I would have it criminialized tomorrow if I could. I weep to think about it.

The very reason medical cadavars and research specimens, even the use of transplanted human tissues, continue is because it serves a life-preserving function. If altered, so to teach those who would preserve life.

And no it doesn't matter that the bodies are from volunteers because the harm of degrading the regard for human life and diginity is inflicted on the living. Or, perhaps some aren't volunteers. There are German news reports -- will work on links after work -- that executed Chinese prisoners were received (but not) processed in the "artist's" macabre lab.

Note: graphic images in both articles.

Blogger Bill Baar said...

I feel like humanity's universal heritage of caring for the dead has been ripped up and sold. It is repulsive and I would have it criminialized tomorrow if I could. I weep to think about it.

I absolutely agre with boys in the band here.

I would criminalize this also.

Blogger boyinthebands said...

Oh dear, Bill Baar and I have agreed on something. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

But do I hear seals cracking? Horsemen?

Blogger Elizabeth said...

I think it is an interesting exhibit but it does give me a little of the heebie jeebies. I was never one to be at east with dead bodies of any sort. My only concern with this particular exhibit is that there was quite some suspicion that when the guy first started his little exhibit that he couldn't find enough bodies so he managed to procure some executed Chinese prisioners that most certainly did not give their consent. I don't knwo if it was ever proven, but it seemed pretty credible that the early bodies were not obtained ethically. Which just overall makes me question the guy in general and think he is a little shady. Now he has set up a nice little organization to procure bodies, but if he was willing to do it with not-so-consenting people I just feel like he might not be doing the whole thing in a loving or ethical way. I won't see it. Just seems a little suspicious. But I'm not against the idea of bodies being displayed for educational purposes. For art... not sure about that.

Blogger Elizabeth said...

i mean at ease, not at east. and know and not know. sorry i don't know how to edit the post to correct it. use spell check before you post ANYTHING, elizabeth.

Blogger boomer said...

organ donation = good

as for the "show" when it was in San Francisco there was widespread reporting of "leakage" from the bodies...

not good

Blogger PeaceBang said...

LEAKAGE!!???? Oh my God. Oh my living God.

Blogger boomer said...

for the horrible details

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I should note that it's Black/African Americans who have a higher rate of organ rejection than other Americans (not other "people").

Blogger Errantfrogs said...

I asked at the exhibit if the bodies were from willing donors. Yes, they said; in fact, they have more people asking to be in the exhibit than they know what to do with. They were "given" some bodies from dubious sources at some point, which they rejected.

Offending the ancestor spirits? I was thinking of that as I went through the exhibit, but the overall feeling was surprising -- there is clearly nobody in these cases, I kept thinking. The body is merely the temporary vessle. Once the spirit has left, the body is, indeed meat.

While I expected a lot of irreverence, I witnessed none. In fact, people were very respectful... again, the awe factor.

The exhibit is also laid out with the "escape clause" taken into account. The opening display cases are tame (isolated organs, lots of explanations of the process, etc.). Too much? You can leave before you see anything that might keep you up that night. As you move deeper into the exhibit, the displays become more complex and involved. It's an aclimation process that I was quite grateful for.

These folks have really thought this out.

I should say that I'm coming from a particular place where I'm overly sensitive to this kind of stuff. Having grown up a Christian Scientist, this exhibit was more than I could ever imagine seeing. My parents kept me out of biology class for goodness sake!

It was quite a catch up course.

If I sound like I'm hyping this up, I am. It was one of the most profound things I've ever seen. I would go as far to say it shifted my theology regarding the body. Certainly, it made me consider my relationship with my own body.

Blogger Erin Elizabeth said...

PeaceBang (and everyone else), please sign up to be an organ donor. Without a kidney transplant (luckily from a relative) I would have grown up without a mother. I understand many people feel "weird" about it, but for me that isn't a convincing argument when faced with someone's life in the balance. I personally can't imagine being buried/cremated with all my organs intact when they could be used to help save a precious life. I'm not saying that only the soul is important and it's "just" your body- think of it as a way to celebrate life, to give of yourself. From dust to dust, as they say, but shouldn't we do the best with our flesh that we can while we have it? Thanks

Blogger CK said...

I saw the show in Philly. I can't comment on the rumors about undonated bodies, etc., but I found it very educational and done in good taste. I recommend it to anyone who asks.

Amp had a post, though, about the way the bodies are presented. I thought the post was off the deep end with regard to obesity, but no target about gender stereotypes.

Blogger Bill Baar said...

Oh dear, Bill Baar and I have agreed on something. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

No, you just don't understand me and perhaps rushed to judge.

That often happens because blogs are thin.

Bodies, human and other, are more the meat. There works of the creator and I do weep at this.

We avoid viewing the stuffed birds at the Field Museum from TR's hunting trips to the jungle.

I avoid this too and that the bodies willingly donated of little difference to me.

Blogger zorra said...

A show similar to this one (my understanding is that there are two competing shows) is in Houston right now and it bothers me on so many levels, I haven't gone. The huge billboards all over town really creep me out.

Blogger dame olympia's page said...

peacebang, you have to go see this.
It was beautiful. and each element was laid out so fantastically. With special quotes and everything at the chicago exhibit. It is done so well.

If anything, I have more reverence for my body --- it was an element behind my decision to join weight watchers.

You GOTTA go.

Dame O.

Blogger Errantfrogs said...

dame olympia and I agreeing on something... imagine that...

Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thought this article in the New York Times this morning might be of interest to anyone who might still read this

it talks about the body factories in China that prepare the bodies and "parts" for this display and others like it. I just don't feel comfortable with mass produced bodies for display.

Blogger Elizabeth said...

seems the link doesn't show up if i leave it whole. so you'll have to paste it in three parts. sorry for dual posts....

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I've decided not to go see it out of a sense of protest.

There has to be a way to do a similar exhibit without using real human bodies. Of course, a tenth of the people would attend, but that's precisely my point.

Blogger rachel said...

completely fascinating... just found your blog - as a minister's wife, i am a fan! loved the 'beauty tips for ministers', which i sent to my mom, who is also a minister!

Blogger Litocranius said...

I'm sorry I didn't see this post earlier - I've been away from my computer for the past three weeks.

A few points of clarification here. There are actually *two* separate organizations doing these traveling body exhibits. The "Body Worlds" one is by Gunther von Hagen; this is the one that was at Chicago, Phillie, etc. The one with the "leaking bodies" is a knock-off exhibition. I have been to both exhibits, and I witnessed extremely respectful behavior by all visitors. I can say that significantly more educational content is presented in the "knock-off," (although the German one isn't so bad). The only thing of real problem for me is that the von Hagen one can't decide whether it's art or education - the silvery labels with "titles," dates, and the von Hagen signature were a little distasteful to me.

That said, I think these exhibits are a good thing. As a culture, we are getting more and more disconnected from our bodies, our world, life, and death. As others have said, it is amazing to see the complexity (and fragility, in some cases) of the human body. Too many people fail to think about this.

In the second place, I think much of the hubub revolves around a discomfort with, or lack of exposure to, death. My wife, a life-long UU, had never seen a corpse until she went to a funeral back in the midwest with me. She was used to the idea of corpses as little neat piles of ashes that you put in an urn. In my tradition, seeing the body is part of the closure process (although some aspects of the funeral industry certainly should be open to criticism!)--I think too many people lose out on this in this day of quick cremations and closed caskets.

One of the best experiences I had in Sunday School was when our youth group leader arranged for us to take a behind-the-scenes trip to the local funeral home (we were all in our early teens then). This experience demystified a lot of the aspects of death, and showed the surprising banality of what happens to a body after death. The undertaker was patient, tasteful, and understanding. Personally, I think this sort of tour should be part of every religious education curriculum!

Nowadays, I'm a graduate student in anatomy. I deal with human bodies on a near daily basis, both as a teacher and a researcher. In my work, I have come to terms with many aspects of mortality, and I've seen the real positive impact that body donation has on researchers and future physicians. (parenthetically, as someone with friends and family in the military both here, in Iraq, and Afghanistan, I am thankful for cadavers' contributions to military research on protective gear, too!). I have asked that if my organs are unusable, my body be donated to science. I ask everyone else to consider a similar course of action!


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