This weekend I finally got to visit an exhibition that I have wanted to see for close to ten years!
Body Worlds, Dr Gunther Von Hagens’ exhibition of real human bodies, has been touring the world since it was first presented in Tokyo in 1995.
The exhibition and the idea of getting close up to real human bodies from the inside out has fascinated me since I first heard about it coming to London in 2002. I had however, until now, been unable to convince anyone to come and see it with me. Most people were unsure why you might “pay to see corpses” but the exhibition is far more about life than death.
Over 38 million people have experienced Body Worlds in over 90 cities worldwide including Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City
Body Worlds brings together a collection of real human bodies, specimens, organs and body slices which have been willed by donors and preserved through plastination, a ground-breaking method for specimen preservation invented by scientist Dr. Gunther von Hagens.
What started as simply ‘Body Worlds’, has expanded and developed to become a series of touring exhibitions focusing on different aspects of life and the human body. Body Worlds ‘Pulse’ is currently in New York, Body Worlds and The Cycle of Life is in Salt Lake City, USA and Body Worlds ‘Vital’ is in both Mexico and Newcastle, England.
I chose to visit the exhibition at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle where it’s open until Sunday 4th January 2015.
The Vital exhibition includes whole-body plastinates, a large arrangement of individual organs, organ and arterial configurations, and translucent slices that give a complete picture of how the human body works. Vital tells the story of how best to fight life-threatening diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart ailments, through healthy choices and lifestyle changes.
There is no photography allowed in the exhibition which is dark and atmospheric inside. The bodies are posed in lifestyle positions, running, fishing, playing badminton and even electric guitar. Organs lay out in glass cases and it’s impossible to believe you are looking at brains and bones that belonged to a real person. One of the most incredible sights was a series of cross-section slices that hang, suspended from a rail. The body was cut in slices less than 1cm in thickness and are transparent so you can see through the bones and internal organs. At first look it feels like you’re inside a butchers and looking at an animal carcass. It’s both shocking and stunning in equal measure.
The complexity of the body, its beauty, symmetry and ability to self-heal are all explored as you make your way between cases of brain slices and cancerous lungs. It’s a stark reminder of both the strength and fragility of the human body and how our lifestyle choices impact upon its ability to survive.
The exhibition is beautifully curated with educational information and full details about the plastination process. It takes around one year for a donated body to become exhibition-ready.
As we turn the final corner of the exhibition, we come to the exhibits which I approached with most trepidation. This room of the exhibition feels a little darker than the others and is noticeably quiet as people look through glass cabinets absorbed in a fusion of intrigue and sadness. Foetuses curled up from just 4 weeks into development start a line of display cases which culminates in babies up to 36 weeks. It’s impossible to describe, quite hard to see and it’s a struggle to accept that these were once destined for birth and a life-cycle of their own.
Body Worlds Vital has to be seen to be fully appreciated. It’s hard to find the words to sum it up but it makes your heart race, your mind play tricks and your eyes disbelieve what they see. Ultimately it exposes you to the fact that much of your health lies within your own hands. Life is a death sentence in its very essence but the gift of the human body and its unfathomable ability to operate, heal and repair is one to be enjoyed to the fullest.
See Body Worlds Vital at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle. Entry to the exhibition is included in a ticket to the Life Science Centre. When you’re in the Centre, make sure you have a go on the 4D Motion ride for a nice change of pace, quite literally,and see the show in the Planetarium; both are included in your entry ticket.
£29.50 – Family Ticket 2 adults + 2 children OR 1 adult + 3 children
£12.00 – Adult (18+)
£7.50 – Child (2 – 17)
Visit the Life Science Centre website here
Find out about Body Worlds exhibitions here