Navigation Links
Anthropologist: 'Body Worlds' visitors confront bodies but not death

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. In two new works, an anthropologist tackles a perplexing question relating to the enormously successful "Body Worlds" exhibits: How does society tolerate and even celebrate the public display of human corpses?

"Body Worlds The Original Exhibition of Real Human Bodies" is the most widely attended exhibit in the world, said Jane Desmond, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and author of a paper and book chapter on the subject. While the exhibition has generated some controversy, its promoters have succeeded in presenting it to more than 31 million visitors in Asia, Europe and North America since it opened in Japan in 1995.

Today, new exhibits are being developed for museums and galleries around the world, including the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, on March 18.

Gunther von Hagens, a German physician and anatomist, is the creator of "Body Worlds" and inventor of the "plastination" technique that makes it possible. Plastination infuses dead tissues with plastic polymers. The tissues are malleable at first, allowing technicians to manipulate them before they harden.

In a paper in the journal Configurations, Desmond, who wrote a social history of taxidermy, contrasted the treatment of specimens in "Body Worlds" to that of taxidermied animals. Unlike taxidermy, which focuses on the animal's exterior, "Body Worlds" shows the insides the muscles, bones, nerves, organs and vascular systems of the plastinated human bodies. Most traces of hair, skin and body fat are stripped from the specimens.

The lack of identifying features avoids offending viewers by drawing their attention away from the person whose body is on display and toward the body itself as an object of wonder or scientific curiosity, Desmond said.

"This process of subtraction that's taken away all the social markers in a sense idealizes and universalizes these individuals so that symbolically they come to stand for the undifferentiated human, which allows us to look with impunity because we're not really looking at a person or an individual," she said. "Von Hagens' plastinates could never be displayed with their skins on."

The corpses appear lifelike and often are positioned in athletic poses. Plastination also leaves the muscles pink, as if infused with blood, Desmond said, adding to the impression that the bodies are still animated.

"So there is the fencer, the chess player, the bicyclist, the archer, the figure skaters," she said. "And everyone looks like a marathon runner."

In the exhibition Desmond saw in London in 2002, the specimens were in pristine condition; in all cases but one (a pair of disembodied, cigarette-blackened lungs) they bore no signs of the actual or probable cause of death.

"In many ways, we don't see graphic images of death," Desmond said. "We see fictionalized images of death."

The context in which the bodies are presented is meant to soothe the moral, ethical and legal concerns that some audience members might have about the display, Desmond said. The exhibitors prominently assert in the museum halls and on their website that the individuals displayed voluntarily donated their bodies "for the qualification of physicians and the instruction of laypersons."

In a possible nod to religious viewers, one of the figures in the exhibit kneels in what could be interpreted as an attitude of prayer, Desmond said. Nearby a sign expresses gratitude to the body donors.

The exhibitors also promote the display as an advancement in the age-old study of anatomy, Desmond wrote, in "Touring the Dead," a chapter in an upcoming book on tourism research.

"The wall (of the exhibition space) is decorated with blow-ups of Renaissance and medieval anatomical prints, quotes from philosophers like Kant and Goethe, and illustrations of dissections, all anchoring the present exhibit in the past and accruing the legitimacy that such an invocation of art, anatomy, and the search for knowledge can afford," she wrote.

"Because of all of this animation, because of the de-emotional screen of scientism through which the entire thing is constructed, because of the depersonalization and the universalization, all of that, I think, is so powerful that it's possible to forget that we're in a room full of dead people," she said.


Contact: Diana Yates
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related medicine news :

1. Where MRSA colonizes on the human body
2. Memo to Men: To Live Longer, Take Better Care of Your Body
3. Got a Headache? Your Body May Be Telling You Something
4. NIH study identifies ideal body mass index
5. Endurance Runners Lost 50% of Body Fat During 2-Month Race
6. Airport Body Scanners Safe, Experts Say
7. True whole-body field view using PET/CT could allow doctors to more accurately manage cancer patients
8. Scientists Spot Genes Tied to Puberty, Body Fat in Girls
9. Genes link puberty timing and body fat in women
10. Bodys Clock Gene May Play Role in Depression
11. Antibody Linked to Allergies on the Rise
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Anthropologist: 'Body Worlds' visitors confront bodies but not death
(Date:10/9/2015)... ... October 09, 2015 , ... ... of Change” program, a community improvement initiative that involves working with a series ... from the assistance of Confidence Plus Insurance is the Gleason Park Electric Violin ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... ... October 09, 2015 , ... Prescription ... from all walks of life to save money on the high cost of ... per month per medication, individuals and families can receive their medications delivered direct ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... ... 09, 2015 , ... Santa Rosa Consulting and The University of Texas MD ... go-live on the Epic platform in March of 2016. Both entities have already begun ... the contract by supporting Scheduling Appointment Conversion and the Go-Live. , “We are ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... Bethesda, Maryland (PRWEB) , ... October 09, 2015 ... ... care and assisted living placement counseling, recently opened its newest office in Maryland ... the senior care industry with a background as a project management technology consultant ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... ... October 09, 2015 , ... ... was recognized by Cabarrus County Active Living and Parks for its outstanding commitment ... company’s dedication to consistently going above and beyond the call of duty, ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
... Goodwin HealthDay Reporter , WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2 ... understanding others, intentions, new research shows. This lack ... those with high IQs, judge others more harshly, which ... study found. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology ...
... growing population in the United States, account for a ... Yet more than half of clinical trials exclude ... to a new study by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ... "These findings are concerning because it means that ...
... unexpected benefit of osteoporosis treatment that people taking ... without osteoporosis, they appear to be gaining an extra ... the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism , ... John Eisman, from Sydney,s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, ...
... not screened for cervical cancer as often as native-born Canadians, ... new research shows. Only one in five 21.9 ... of 50 living in low-income neighbourhoods had had a recent ... St. Michael,s Hospital. In contrast, 79 per cent of ...
... up in poverty have health problems as adults. But a ... with more social cohesiveness and control get some measure of ... adolescents. The new study, published in Psychological Science ... part of a long-term examination of children growing up poor ...
... Reporter , TUESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A ... drug Avastin may harm patients. An analysis of ... in combination with chemotherapy or biological therapy, actually increased ... or biologics alone. This new information should ...
Cached Medicine News:
(Date:10/9/2015)... , Oct. 9, 2015   Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ... the TELESTAR Phase 3 clinical study of telotristat etiprate has ... Society annual symposium to be held from October 15-17, in ... interviews with patients who completed the randomized treatment portion of ... in a poster session. --> ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... , Oct. 9, 2015 AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: ... made at the annual European Society of Emergency Medicine (EuSEM) ... 14 th , 2015 at the Lingotto Congress Centre in ... the largest meeting of emergency medicine practitioners in the world ... Data from the previously announced phase 2 bunionectomy ...
(Date:10/9/2015)... SAN DIEGO , Oct. 9, 2015 ... meeting (Infectious Disease Society of America ) regarding the ... a transplant patient on a respirator who was co-infected ... 130). Over a five-day course of therapy, O 2 ... and the patient was able to go off the ...
Breaking Medicine Technology:
... Va., May 01, 2007 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- CEL-SCI,CORPORATION ... against hepatitis B antigen, and that the ... adjuvant delivery,system owned by Mercia Pharma, induced ... virus) antibodies. These findings,were presented by Dr. ...
... 1, 2007 - Avanir,Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AVNR) today announced that ... Zenvia(TM),(dextromethorphan / quinidine) and the prevalence of Involuntary,Emotional ... session at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) ... in the,following posters: -0-, , ...
Cached Medicine Technology:
... Continuing to lead the market in New ... IABP is a whole new first and ... technology coupled with a physiologically based timing ... with unprecedented timing accuracy. Second generation ...
... or Surgical Center where heavy use ... first name in Cryo Ophthalmic Surgery ... with high performance, reliable Cryo Systems ... and the surgeons' requirements have allowed ...
... ATP Auto Non-Contact Tonometer / Pachymeter is ... combining the measurement of IOP and CCT ... numerous clinical studies that have shown the ... well as intraocular pressure in the management ...
... has become one of the nations ... practitioners and other allied health professionals. ... Medical Laboratory Technicians, Office Laboratory Technicians, ... Dental Assistants and Allied Health Instructors. ...
Medicine Products: