Many people may already be familiar with anatomist Gunther von Hagens’ programmes on Channel 4, where he broadcasts autopsies of real dead bodies. If you are a fan of these somewhat cringe worthy shows then you’ll more than likely enjoy his exhibition currently on in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. If you go along, you’ll find a collection of human corpses, spread, skinned and sliced but shockingly very real.
The exhibition is one of many that have been displayed over the years, since 1995 in fact. All of the corpses used are from people who freely agreed to donate their bodies to the exhibition before they died and they serve to – as Dr. von Hagens states – show the ‘beauty beneath the skin’. Von Hagens has managed this feat by inventing a method of preservation called Plastination which halts decomposition and gives the models in the collection ‘rigidity and permanence’. There is a very sporty theme in this particular display, with the corpses frozen in such poses as football, swimming and running.
When walking around the models, it was hard to fully comprehend that they are actually real and that the exposed body in front of you used to be a living, breathing person. Perhaps this is because the Plastination process gives the bodies an artificial and plastic-like look. Occasionally, however, waves of this realisation hit and it was quite an eerie feeling.
Some of the presentations of the body are quite extreme but fascinating. For example, one is sliced into cross sections and suspended in front of you so you can see between and inside each detailed part.
Also included are individual organs, some with diseases such as lungs with emphysema and a kidney with a tumour twice its size. In my opinion, the most incredible things were the accurately shaped models simply made up of blood vessels, looking like some sort of finely woven figures – delicate but bizarre. I don’t want to give too much more away but I will say that some of the displays may be more distressing than others, so brace yourself.
I really couldn’t decide whether what I was looking at was just like a very educational biology lesson or whether it was really a kind of morbid art gallery. It was incredibly informative and had a much bigger impact than a textbook and yet the human bodies were so full of intricate systems and so compact – you really have to see it to believe it.
The exhibition runs until the 29th June so if you’re not the extremely squeamish type go and have a look or even if you are but are just a little bit curious, go ahead – it won’t kill you…if it does, I’m sure Dr. von Hagens would appreciate another donation.