It's like family, only weirder…

BODIES: The Exhibition (Wrap-Up)

Not being a medical student, I can't begin to fully appreciate what I saw, but I can say that I would never have otherwise been able to examine cadavers as I did here.

The exhibit was amazing! I haven’t seen such a well thought-out and fine presentation as this in some time, if ever. There was great interest in every room without being cluttered or overwhelming. Each room was also divided categorically into some focused system of the body (e.g. circulatory, skeletal, muscular, nervous, etc.). The polymer preservation used to control decay in the tissues was truly amazing stuff. Not being a medical student, I can’t begin to fully appreciate what I saw, but I can say that I would never have otherwise been able to examine cadavers as I did here. The information was laid out very clearly and concisely – with small factoids in large print on the wall. I especially enjoyed that written material describing a specimen was available from multiple angles at a given display. This kept people from crowding too tightly around you.

A bit of social commentary on museums…I noticed that people, complete strangers, were comfortable breaching the standards of personal space at this exhibit. I don’t know if I’ve just never noticed before, or if this was a special circumstance surrounding BODIES. Also, “Please Do Not Touch” apparently is an indication that you would like something to be touched.

In the first area, you’re introduced to the skeletal system. To me, this is a fundamental component of the human infrastructure, and it is. It is something that describes us as human, as homo sapiens. As such, I would not have guessed at the level of diversity in this system. A living body has a remarkable ability of coping. The gamut of normal is broad. Some things were minor, such as curvature differences in the skull. Others were more intrinsically different like the number of bones making up your skull.

After this, you’re brought up to speed on the joints, tendons, and the muscular system. Layers are intentionally pulled away or cut out to show the underlying support systems. The cadavers exhibiting their bodies are in various sports poses, which clearly demonstrates the use of all these parts in conjunction. This also helps to enforce the show’s encouragement to live healthy. The strands of muscle fiber wrap our bodies in an intricate weave that truly is beautiful. I have seen fantasy armor in movies that was patterned after this phenomena.

The circulatory system is one of true beauty and awe. Words cannot prepare you for the magnificence that is polymer preservation of arteries and veins. Complete vascular systems have been captured as though they still remain in their living counterparts, tenuously holding their organizational shape as though still covered by the skin. The sinister side of me examined carefully the locations of vulnerable arteries. Seeing the delicate nature of this system in our bodies really made me wonder how any of us make it.

The nervous system was a remarkable display as well. I’ve never before seen a complete system laid out in that manner before. Our brain is a big Portuguese Man-o-War with it’s tentacles reaching the length of our bodies. Just looking into the brain, cross-sectioned and labeled, mesmerized me. To think that it once contained all of the thoughts of a human is perplexing. Of particular interest was a brain specimen showing the aftermath of a severe stroke. It looked as though the brain had been burned! It’s amazing that this sort of thing can happen within us.

True to the show’s purpose, a section for the lungs started off with the words, “Now take a deep breath…” in large print. There was a strong to tie to the ill-effects smoking and pollution can cause to your lungs. The cadavers, and polymer process itself, were all from China and one may draw a quick conclusion that Chinese air is bad. This is not because of smoking alone, but rather the continued use of coal as a fuel source and the high pollution factors there. Most of the lungs on display showed signs of bad lungs. Whether or not they died from it, no one can know. After seeing all of this, there’s a clever acrylic box in the corner beckoning you to deposit your cigarettes within. When we were there, there was a *healthy* pile at the bottom.

There was also a section dedicated to the digestive system. I found out it takes, on average, 24 hours to fully pass a meal. That sounds perfectly correct to me. I also learned that our tastebuds provide more than aesthetics, they also send signals to the brain telling it what enzymes to produce to digest our food. Now that’s awesome! Of course, I was instantly concerned for those that can’t taste properly. That must indicate that they are less than efficient at digesting their food. The digestive system provided opportunity to explain various parasites and cancers as well. These made for some unsettling displays in vivid detail and color. I was most displeased at the existence of round worms in some of the organs. That seems like a very unpleasant experience, indeed.

The most controversial display was that of fetal development and malformations. The display was really spectacular, though I wasn’t incredibly shocked because of the things I’ve seen as a midwife’s son. It was really interesting that I could see real (nonliving) specimens, but I was all too familiar with the malformations. The most interesting part of that display was the progressive bone growth. It was incredible to see distinct bone formations throughout a fetus’ development.

I wouldn’t change much about the display, but I did have a couple of nagging feelings while visually digesting everything. I would like to have seen some animals preserved in the same way to demonstrate some of the differences and similarities between us. I would also liked to have seen actual movement in the skeletal and muscular system to see how things react in life. From what I gathered from the samples I held, I didn’t gather that this last wish would even be possible with the preservation. The polymer, while somewhat like rubber, is far too stiff to flex and bend easily. Regardless, no complaints about the show. I recommend everyone who can, see the show. It won’t be Atlanta forever, so jump on the opportunity. The show runs through September 4th at the Atlanta Civic Center.


Reader Comments

  1. I must admit that when you told me about the exhibit, my stomach did a slow roll and I thought, “No way am I going to THAT.” Busman’s holiday sort of reaction mingled with that nauseating feeling of seeing large intestines come boiling out of an open incision when the patient coughs or pushes down during surgery. However, after reading your follow-up blog and talking to Amy, I found the directions to the Atlanta Civic Center and plan to go as soon as I can. It’s a good excuse to see the new aquarium, too. Where is that?

  2. Did you take the small child? I try not to shelter my small child too much (especially from scary things like science); but I am not a good judge of what is age appropriate education when it comes to the more unpleasant aspects of this frail and uncertain experience called life.

  3. I didn’t take Balthazar, though not because it was age inappropriate. I just didn’t want to spend my time chasing him around instead of some learnin’. There were a few other children there, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate for children. There are genitalia, but it’s hard to really get excited about that when its on a dissected corpse.

  4. I live in Boston. I read the Epoch Times, which has been doing a story on the harvesting of live body parts from Falun Gong practioners. There is also an op-ed about the sale of cadavers of political enemies of the Communist party and a suggestion that maybe they are being used in the “BODIES” exhibit, which uses bodies obtained “legally” from Chinese authorities. I am no expert, but I am not confident the rule of law protects the human rights of political and religious minorities in Chinda.

    One question the author asked was why all the bodies look so young.

    Then I clicked here:

    http://www.bodiestheexhibition.com/contact.html

    I got chills down my spine. I’m not anthropologist, but it appears the body on the page belongs to a young, healthy, Chinese man.

    I know this makes me sound like a lunatic conspiracy theorist, but I feel obligated to ask a few questions:

    1. Where do they get those bodies?

    2. How do we know they didn’t belong to political prisoners or prisoners of conscience?

    Not questions that the MSM would ask.

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