On Monday, Torontoist finally took in Body Worlds 2 at the Science Centre, and we’re still having nightmares about plastinated zombies.
Body Worlds 2 lies somewhere in the area where the realms of science and art overlap. Much of the exhibit has the feel of a creatively designed anatomy lesson – a number of table cases simply contain various body parts (including the lungs of a smoker and those of a non-smoker lying side by side. We don’t mean to be obvious or moralistic, but that shit is really bad for you). You’re eased into the viewing of the actual bodies by a hallway full of such things, which are relatively palatable considering what is to come. It is difficult to know how to feel about the bodies themselves, difficult to process that each of these sculptures (for indeed, that is how they are presented) once lived and loved and had a family. Nothing is said about the lives or identities of the donors; each sculpture is given an anonymously iconic name (The Dancer, The Thinker, The Angel). Gunther von Hagen clearly considers himself an artist – he takes bizarre liberties with each body (a ski jumper is split down the middle and spread apart, The Angel’s shoulder blades are lifted up and out, like wings, and a sculpture called The Exploded Man is a complex array of body parts carefully arranged and hanging from above on fishing wire), and, odder still, he signs each of the pieces. Most unsettling, though utterly fascinating, is the body of a pregnant woman, carved so that the fetus in her womb is visible.
We had to keep reminding ourselves that each of these bodies are here with the consent of their former inhabitants. The sample consent form on the wall helped, though we were a bit depressed by the list of reasons one might choose to donate one’s body to such a cause (they include “wish to save money on a funeral” and “no family left behind who will care about my body”).
Body Worlds does make some headway in breaking down some lingering taboos regarding the human body. It succeeds in its attempts to be both educational and, however freeakishly, artistic, and it is certainly worth seeing for its sheer bizarreness. Plus, when else are you going to get to look inside a camel?