Sunday, November 14, 2004


This middle-aged college student who writes before you is a tad low-performance, academically speaking, in her Biology class. Under these circumstances it is considered appropriate, professor willing, to do extra credit in an attempt to raise that all-important grade. This particular professor picked the activity/assignment/learning experience that she would approve extra credit work on….

Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS.

Now before I go further I want to preface that I did not really read up on what BODY WORLDS actually was. I figured it was some cool, sciency thing like The Invisible Man or Invisible Woman or The Incredible Journey. Those of you old enough to remember those references, yay. Those too young, look it up or ask you parents. You youngsters can use Inner Space with Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid as a reference. If that is also too dated, then whatEVER. You are a child and should be outside playing and not reading this anyway. Now to get back to BODY WORLDS I remember having heard something about plastic, or plasticizing or something so figured there would be cool models of things. So I traipsed down to the Science Center first thing yesterday morning to attend the exhibit. Actually I didn’t traipse, I spent an hour in Saturday morning traffic on the 110 Freeway. But that has no role in this story.

First thing I read upon arriving was: “ Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS, The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies.”

Real Human Bodies. Hmmmm. I read the captions on the first exhibits – skeletal systems, individual bones, etc…and noted that the exhibit was made possible by individuals who had donated their bodies to science. I thought about the donor card on the back of my drivers license and thought to my self that I was going to need to add something to the instructions on the card, like, “Organs for use in LIVE bodies only, people.”

Now, it seems that this Gunther von Hagen, not to be confused with Baron von Frankenstein, has invented and patented a process called “Plastination.” He painstakingly dissects entire systems of the human body away from OTHER entire systems of the human body, like say, the nervous system only, or the blood vessels only, or the cardiovascular system only….manages to separate it, and then infuse it with a liquid plastic into the cells until the specimen fills up with plastic – sometimes dyed plastic, sometimes not. He then adjusts it to the structural contours of the human shape and does a kind of SCULPTURE, if you will. It’s got to take years. This is really fascinating and allows one to see the different systems of machinery in the human body in a completely new way.

But then the artsy sculpture. I couldn’t help but remember a bad episode of THE OUTER LIMITS with Anthony Michael Hall in the lead where he plays a frustrated sculptor who can’t get a gallery to take him seriously until he starts killing people and covering them with plaster – passing them off as sculpture. Well, artistically speaking, they WERE. They just happened to be posed dead people sculpture.

So I’m walking along, scrutinizing the pieces, looking at enlarged hearts and smokers lungs and what have you, when I get to some pieces that were definitely Mr. Von Hagen’s masterpieces.

A man, looking to the heavens, standing tall and proud. His skin had been carefully removed so that all musculature, skeleton, organs etc were intact. In his right hand, raised up in the air with pride, or triumph, or whatever, he holds his entire skin like a prized cloak, or trophy, or carpet, or whatever. I started hearing actor Ted Levine’s voice speaking one of his lines from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS...“It rubs the lotion on its skin...” over and over in my head.

There were a couple more that went in that direction that I won’t talk about here, you’ll have to check it out yourself, but suffice it to say it was at this point I was painfully aware that these were REAL people at one point in time. I wanted to know about THEM. What had they done for work when they lived, who were they, why was that guy playing chess so freakin’ skinny? I then wanted to think about Gunther for a minute. Okay, obsess about, and for longer than a minute. I wanted to know what he was thinking about when he stepped out of the realm of straight scientific exhibition and into the realm of fine art, using dead human bodies as his medium and palette.

A little creeped out ultimately, I went home. The traffic was much better and I shrugged off my creepiness by getting a nifty new haircut and fresh highlights appropriate to the winter season.


Blogger R said...

God! THe only thing getting in the way of me going to medical school (aside from my everyday average grade point) was the thought of working with cadavars. I mean, that was someones BABY at one time. It's facinating like a train wreck. But still....How do they get approval for that stuff. Posing you dead playing chess is furthering science? Yikes!

14 November, 2004 12:54  
Blogger R said...

Hey Millicent...go sign up for Blog Explosion (there is a link on my website if you want)I don't know if you have a counter on this site but thousands of people need to be reading your blog. It's too delicious not to share. I'm addicted!

14 November, 2004 23:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Waaaay creepy. And, in my squeamish book, slightly revolting. And yet somehow titillating (don't you love that word? it's one of my faves). At least you got extra credit. It's one of the lessons I've passed down to my daughters: "Always Do The Extra Credit."


15 November, 2004 13:17  

Post a Comment

<< Home