by Jack Martin

An Inner Body Experience

Dr Gunther von Hangens’ Body Worlds

Body Worlds, the anatomical exhibition
Dr Gunther von Hangens’ Body Worlds, the anatomical exhibition, has made its way to Cape Town, and I went along to see what all the fuss was about.
Body Worlds has been shown in more than 70 cities across the globe and seen by over 35 million people. And what are they all looking at? Why corpses, of course. Actual donated human corpses, preserved through a process called plastination, which if I understand correctly, is the injection of plastic into the various organs, tissues and muscles. These corpses, known as ‘plastinates’ make up the bulk of the exhibition and are designed to show the layperson the inner workings of the body.
I enter through the turnstiles, not quite sure what to expect. The lighting is dark and quiet and there are many people. The exhibition, which is held in a series of rooms, traces human life from birth to death. The first room contains information about how babies are formed in the womb, along with a display of fetuses in various stages of development, from what looks like a tiny piece of wet lint all the way through to something that seems 'baby shaped'.


The main room follows, with glass topped cabinets displaying human hearts, bones and other vital organs. It is here that I encounter my first ‘plastinate’, standing rigidly with glass eyes, which is perhaps the most off-putting part of the experience. Most of the plastinates are skinless, showing the organs and bones and the way the muscles join and cover the skeleton. 
It is after this that things get weird. Among the brain slices and cross sections, are full plastinates postured in what is described as ‘real life poses’. Here we find a woman climbing from her skin, a man spinning a ship’s wheel, a trumpet player with a hunchback, and someone jumping a fence. I am not sure why these have been chosen as representations of ‘real life’ but they are certainly interesting to look at. 
Next to a set of lungs damaged from years of tobacco smoke, is a human head with skin intact, sliced perfectly in two. It is not often one considers all the parts inside us, and I am awed by the experience.
From the main room, the exhibition winds through various ante rooms, showing the blood vessel layout of the human body and comparing it to those of a duck and a mouse. Sadly for me this is the only animal display of the show. In other Body Worlds exhibitions animals, even a giraffe and an elephant, are incorporated. 
In the next room are two corpses engaged in copulation and descriptions on how sex affects the body. Surprisingly, this display is not insensitive or grotesque in any way. This is followed by a more plastinate displays and a section on how eating affects us, including a cross section display of an obese man.
This marked the end of the exhibition and I felt glad that I had come. It had been enlightening experience and I left feeling even more convinced that I really need to stop smoking now... that damaged lung looked positively disgusting. I highly recommend that everyone go and see Body Worlds and discover for themselves, just what makes us human beings tick.
The show is open daily between 09:00 and 18:30 at Breakwater Boulevard (next to Toy Kingdom) at the V & A Waterfront  in Cape Town.

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Issue 63


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