Thursday, 16 April 2009

Body Worlds.....thoughts.

I was going to reply to Fi's comment in the little box, but I filled it instead I decided on a copy and paste job:

I came out of the exhibition curiously unmoved and spent some time unpicking what the thought processes had been and why the reaction had been so flat.

Some of it was due to the ambiance - black backgrounds to show off the plastinates...this made a womb like quality to the exhibition and people were very much quieter than my previous experience of Body Worlds in Brick Lane. Whispered comments...quiet interaction. It was very different to the mirth and light I had witnessed in 2002 (I think that's when it was).

The other thing was that the venue (the O2 Dome) is/was just like a circus tent...this and the fact that some of the plastinates were encased in highly reflective glass cases - which reflected not only the plastinate that was enclosed, but also the onlooker and other adjacent specimines too - made the fairground/circus effect all the more surreal - it was sometimes almost like being in a hall of mirrors. This photo of an artist at work at the exhibition gives a taste of the reflections I refer to:

I think as a tool for medical students plastination is very valid........
BUT, on the whole, I think that the public market is a niche that has been jumped into and exploited without much thought as to the future.

Many plastinates are being produced - not only by the 'Body World machine', but other rival businesses....and they will be on earth for who knows how long. They will not decompose....they are truly non bio-degradable.

How will these plastinates be 'curated' in the future - what are the ethical/practical considerations behind this aspect of the legacy?

More interesting is the re-constructed concept of death being taught to a world wide audience. The didactic shows a clean, grief free demise...Death is displayed as upright, inert - having lost any abject or emotional quality.

We are told that death is represented in the exhibition, specifically by a plastinate shown walking up the steps of a tomb (designed after an anatomical image from the renaissance)......we are told that this makes us consider our own mortality...does it? Did it?

Don't get me wrong - the invention is brilliant - the positioning of the whole body plastinates is breathtaking - the anatomy very - very interesting.....well, for the likes of me, fascinating....but there is something missing.

From the perspective of someone who has had quite a broad experience of death......

Something really is missing.

Prof. von Hagens speaks of the "...need for unadultarated reality..."

I believe that the plastinates are, not unadultarated realities, but rather - as Bazon Brock terms "...real virtualities...".

Adittionally they might be seen in a way that Baudrillard used to describe onscreen or photographic images - as 'hyperreal'. They are indeed spectacular, however, they have lost the vital nature of death and sadly I think, we (the paying audience), have been lead to believe that it is not actually terribly important, it is something to wipe out and hide.

As such, the plastinates are works against death...they portray a skinned version of life and living, looking out at us and future generations through plastic eyes. They promise a new afterlife in a strange kind of posed limbo. These body donors, will become more like the people of an eternal carnival.

We learn about anatomy - possibly, but do we really learn about ourselves and our relationship with mortality?

I don't think so...I am with the little boy who shouts "look, the Emperor has got no clothes on..."


Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Yes - that would have filled the comments box!!
Interesting - and makes sense. I have only seen photos and I agree the anatomy looks amazing. But I could get that from a plastic dummy.. I don't need to think of it as a once living, breathing person! Seems detached from reality to me.
Thank you :)

Antler said...

Well - although you can get the anatomy from a plastic model - G. v. H would argue that we each have a very individual body and that said, each plastinate is a unique and individual teaching aid......

As a teacher of anatomy yourself Fi - do you think it matters?

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Well, firstly as a vet, we expect to learn the anatomy of a lot of species.... so we do explore anatomy from many alternative viewpoints. There is certainly more interest when you can learn basic anatomy of one animal, and then say, well in this species it goes like this instead....

For human anatomy - just another species of animal....there is certainly an advantage for a doctor to explore various life stages... dissecting the cadaver of an elderly person would not make you an expert in neonatal anatomy. I would also imagine exploring the physique of an athlete would be interesting for comparison, but it is possibly more for interest than medical necessity.
After that, it is just minor variations of physique or gross variation such as mirror imaging of organs etc. I don't think any of those really warrant mass plastination for training purposes.
Actually, the trend in training is strongly towards reduce, refine, replace etc... so 3d computer models, plastic models, and things that mean we do not sacrifice animals for training are all strongly encouraged. The inherent dangers with dissecting formalinised cadavers is also a problem. So we use models, fresh freezing works organs, and one whole rat... ex lab, humane euth etc. lovingly referred to as a ratsicle as it arrives frozen in ice !
Such fun

Antler said...

What term would you use for a plastinated adult giraffe?

Charles Cowling said...

Antler, these words of yours are very wise and very carefully thought through. Thank you for them, very, very much. You really have nourished my thinking. I am going to cut and paste this so that I can quote from it (always referencing you, of course!)

Antler said...

Thanks was good to catch up with you at the CH!!!