Navigation Links
Anthropologist: 'Body Worlds' visitors confront bodies but not death
Date:2/7/2011

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
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Anthropologist: 'Body Worlds' visitors confront bodies but not death
(Date:6/26/2016)... Cary, North Carolina (PRWEB) , ... June 26, 2016 , ... ... the release of a new product that was developed to enhance the health of ... harvested for centuries. , The two main herbs in the PawPaws Cat Kidney ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... June 25, 2016 , ... Experts from the American Institutes ... Research Meeting June 26-28, 2016, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. , ... advance care planning, healthcare costs and patient and family engagement. , AIR researchers ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... , ... "With 30 hand-drawn hand gesture animations, FCPX users can easily customize ... Pixel Film Studios. , ProHand Cartoon’s package transforms over 1,300 hand-drawn pictures into ... Simply select a ProHand generator and drag it above media or text in the ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... , ... June 25, 2016 , ... ... and non-athletes recover from injury. Recently, he has implemented orthobiologic procedures as a ... area —Johnson is one of the first doctors to perform the treatment. Orthobiologics ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... CA (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2016 , ... A ... procedures that most people are unfamiliar with. The article goes on to state that ... but also many of these less common operations such as calf and cheek reduction. ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... , June 24, 2016 Dehaier Medical ... the "Company"), which develops, markets and sells medical devices ... , signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Hongyuan ... "Hongyuan Supply Chain") on June 20, 2016, to develop ... the strategic cooperation agreement, Dehaier will leverage Hongyuan Supply ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... Mass. , June 24, 2016   Pulmatrix, ... pharmaceutical company developing innovative inhaled drugs, announced today that ... Russell Investments reconstituted its comprehensive set of ... "This is an important milestone for Pulmatrix," ... will increase shareholder awareness of our progress in developing ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 Research and Markets has announced ... Forecast to 2022" report to their offering. ... the patients with kidney failure, it replaces the function of ... patient,s blood and thus the treatment helps to keep the ... balance. Increasing number of ESRD patients & ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: