Some of you may already know about Body Worlds, the exhibition of cadavers that combines science and art to educate people on human anatomy. These cadavers are preserved in a process known as "plastination."
Body Worlds has come under scrutiny before, the exhibitions being deemed controversial. While fascinating, there are some exhibits that cannot help but make the viewer uncomfortable. I remember when I went to see Body Worlds here in Milwaukee last summer with my fiance. He's a med student, so of course he liked the science aspects, and I loved the artistic aspects.
I saw each preserved and posed cadaver as a sculpture. But of course one cannot help but remember that each of these objects was once a living person, and this fact was never more obvious than the exhibit featuring a plastinated female body with its pregnant belly exposed, showing the preserved fetus inside. A kind plaque informed us that the woman died in a car accident. I couldn't help but think that that woman was too young, and she and her baby were related to someone. I was caught, because while the sculpture was undoubtedly fascinating, frozen in a lithe pose, fetus curled inside the open uterus, I thought the exhibit was unavoidably insensitive.
But I think that's the point. Body Worlds exhibits bodies in poses, which effectively bares our humanity as it is tied to our actual naked anatomy.
The new exhibit will have cadavers in various sex positions to serve as a starting point of the life cycle. This, of course, has incited more controversy. The purpose is to show the raw function of sex as it pertains to conception, and is not meant to imitate pornography:
"It's not my intention to show certain sexual poses. My goal is really to show the anatomy and the function," Body Worlds creative director Whalley told Reuters in an interview, adding the sex exhibition may open next year.There are those critics who find this exhibit to be disgusting because it inextricably links death and sex. I'm the first to always point out that intention is inconsequential since it doesn't always equal how an audience will receive it, and this situation is no different. Many critics have stated that this is disrespectful to the dead, but we're not dealing with the dead in a traditional sense. And let's not forget that these bodies are obtained through willing donations--the exhibits are not the results of grave robbing. I feel that we should respect the right of an individual's autonomy over their own body, even in death, and am not sure that this violates that.
Body Worlds exhibitions, visited by 27 million people across the world, have been criticized for presenting entire corpses, stripped of skin to reveal the muscles and organs underneath, in lifelike and often theatrical positions.
Von Hagens has already triggered uproar with a new exhibit which shows just two copulating corpses.
German politicians called the current "Cycle of Life" show charting conception to old age "revolting" and "unacceptable" when it showed in Berlin earlier this year because it included copulating cadavers.
I'm all about art that pushes boundaries, but I'm interested in what other people think. I'm not made uncomfortable by sex, and dead body sculptures in sex poses doesn't offend me. In fact, I sort of wish they'd make exhibits with bodies having sex beyond the parameters of conception since most sex isn't for that purpose. And there's more than just straight sex. So what do you all think? Awesome? Disrespectful? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Information on body donation can be found here. And the FAQs page here.