The Human Bodies Exhibition

Being a media student has certain perks. Once in a while I get to go to something for free, that I would have been quite happy to pay for. Today that was the launch of the Human Bodies Exhibition. It was excellent, and I didn’t even take the free wine.

“Every now and then you have to stop and remind yourself that what you’re looking at is real”

“It looks just like a liver you’d see in a butcher’s shop.” The incredulity of two women I overheard at the launch of The ‘Human Body’ Exhibition summed up the experience rather well. It’s at once disconcerting and enlightening to see our organs, bones and muscles displayed like art in a museum.

The exhibition is debuting in Dublin, featuring more than 200 full and partial real human body specimens. The specimens are displayed both as individual elements, such as a heart or stomach, but more impressively as a full body, posed in action. One rushes with an American football, another conducts an orchestra.

The bodies, donated to Dalian Hoffen Biotechnique Laboratory in China, have gone through a process of plastination. This technique preserves human tissue down to a cellular level using liquid silicone, which replaces bodily fluids and hardens.

Because of the complexity involved in the plastination of bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs, the full body specimens can take over a year to prepare. The process creates an odourless, hard specimen, which will remain intact indefinitely.

This end result is extraordinary. One of the full body displays shows each muscle splayed out, allowing visitors to see their size and shape. Another is a body cut into four parts, revealing its internal organs, bones and even circulatory system in cross section.

The individual organs are equally interesting, though perhaps not quite as visually impressive. There is a comparison between a healthy and unhealthy lung which is particularly striking. The blackness of an unhealthy lung is quite terrifying.

There is a certain beauty to the displays, and they are presented extremely well. The low lighting makes the circulatory system gallery (one of nine which make up the exhibition) seem almost akin to coral displayed in an aquarium, for example.

Educational director Cheryl Muré emphasised the artistic nature of ‘Human Bodies’. “There’s nothing gory about it, in fact, we’re celebrating the beauty of the human body inside a really beautiful environment. It’s almost like an art gallery.”

It could be done so wrong, but the work that’s gone into the exhibition has made it a tremendous success, both as an educational and scientific insight into the human body, but also on a purely aesthetic level.

A certain detachment does take hold after a short time. I suppose it’s a natural reaction to the sight of one’s inner workings being placed on display, but it becomes an almost surreal experience. It begins with the first full body display, leading to an appreciation of the beauty and sophistication of the human body, rather than any sense of revulsion or disgust which could have resulted were the bodies not so carefully prepared.

As Cheryl put it “Every now and then you have to stop and remind yourself that what you’re looking at is real”.

There’s more to the exhibition than aesthetics however. Education is an important element. Each gallery has an information sheet for visitors to read as they peruse the displays. The information ranges from simple to incredibly detailed, and there are some helpful people wearing lab coats on hand to answer questions. There are also displays of cancer, as well as the aforementioned blackened lungs.

These examples of disease and damage form a part of the exhibition organiser’s aims – “to instil in visitors, as a counter to today’s excess, a desire to be most respectful and caring of the singularly most important possession they own – their miraculous bodies.”

It’s hard not to find some part of the exhibition which stirs a reaction. Cheryl explained that this is an important element of ‘Human Bodies’. “Everyone has a personal reaction to the exhibition. If you’re a cardiac patient or a breast cancer survivor, or you know someone who had a stroke, you’ll have personal moments as you go through that stay with you long after you leave.”

‘Human Bodies’ is the result of the work of Dr. Hong-Jin Sui, Professor of Anatomy at Dalian Medical University. The specimens are unclaimed bodies, donated by the city morgue to the laboratory at Dalian University, and each one was examined to ensure that none were associated with torture, abuse or violence.

This clarification had to be made after a similar exhibition, as well as this one, met with some controversy over the sourcing of bodies. Cheryl was quick to dismiss any unethical practice on the part of ‘Human Bodies’ however.

It is a wonderful exhibition, both educationally and aesthetically. The process used to preserve the bodies is very impressive and seeing the human body displayed artistically is quite beautiful. It may not be for the extremely squeamish, but it is a unique and enjoyable experience for the rest of us.

The exhibition will run until April at the Ambassador Theatre. Doors open at 10am daily. Tickets are priced at €20 for adults, €16 for students and €12 for children, and can be purchased from ticketmaster.

For more information check out thehumanbody.ie

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Comments
2 Responses to “The Human Bodies Exhibition”
  1. Fluffy Tufts says:

    I’m not sure I would have the stomach for this…!

    • James says:

      Some of it was a bit… much, I’ll admit, but mostly it’s not too bad, I forgot to be squeamish pretty quickly

      I’d say if the pictures put you off though you’ll probably hate it!

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