Tonawanda News


July 21, 2009

LIFESTYLE: 'Body Worlds' challenges the mind, heart

Buffalo — The “Body Worlds” exhibit was created as a vehicle for science, but it has stirred up emotions of a far different sort in pretty much every city that it’s visited.

Religious people and others who contend that the human body should be revered contend that the exhibit — which shows “plastinated” corpses in various poses with different bodily systems exposed — is blatantly disrespectful. Where the creators claim science, these people say, there is only art, a vision of posture that only results in the exploitation of the dead.

Other people take issue with how the plastinates are posed — men generally take athletic and/or heroic poses, these critics contend, while women tend to take more passive positions that perpetuate beauty.

And then there are those people without a specific moral objection to the exhibit who are left with a queasy feeling upon pondering the concept of skinned people being dissected and displayed. Death is scary, after all, and no one likes a refresher course on mortality.

That’s how I felt when I walked into the exhibit, which runs through October at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

When I walked out, any fear I had was replaced by awe. Apprehension made way for appreciation. There, in the exhibit hall, lied proof that science is beautiful.

That’s not to say that “Body Worlds” lacks for shock value. No amount of preparation can adequately get you ready for that first interaction with a plastinate — many of which aren’t encased in any way. To get close enough to one of these creations for him or her to feel your breath — if he or she could still feel — is an experience as liberating as it is unsettling.

Visitors will find dozens of plastinates in various poses, each of which acts to display a different bodily system or function (muscle movement during exercise, for example, or the complete layout of the digestive system). Also on display are a handful of similarly treated animals, as well as numerous body parts in various stages of disease — a healthy lung placed next to a smoker’s lung, or a normal knee side-by-side with an arthritic joint.

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