The Macabre and the Unusual

Nudes at Von Hagens Body Worlds, and human organ donation

It seems you can’t fill a room with corpses and naked women these days without causing a controversy. I’m speaking of course of Gunther Von Hagens, shown here holding a slice of child next to a stripper wearing nothing but a thong, stage blood and a mardi gras mask in front of a dead horseman on a dead horse clutching his own brain in one and and his steeds brain in the other.

His exhibit of plastinized people is currently on tour- sans strippers I’m affraid, that’s only in Europe. The rest of the bodies are cadavers donated to science that Von Hagens treats with a process he invented for turning flesh into plastic. Full posable, a plastic body never rots and needs no special chamber to protect it. In body worlds you share a room with the standing dead, posed in a manner that’s either artistic or grotesque, depending on you. Either way, the sculptural and surreal poses help distract from the fact that you’re sharing a room with cadavers. Imagine how unsettling it would be if they were all just laid out on slabs.

On the last night Body Worlds was in LA it was open 48 hours straight, so you could walk the halls at midnight. Flashlight tours would have been an obvious attraction, but sadly were not given. I’m guessing because the exhibit is already walking a fine line between science and unadulterated ghoulishness, and that would have put it over the edge. Still, Von Hagens did kick off the European tour with ten female strippers, two male body builders, and a transvestite, AND he held a public autopsy in Brittain despite laws forbidding such a thing, so the man clearly has a sense of ghoulish style and showmanship could make Rob Zombie curl up in the corner and cry, and a tenuous grasp on the kind of legitimacy that Hannibal Lector can only drool and or make hissy sounds at. But that’s about it for controversy in the states. All I ever read here was, “is this respectful of the dead?” and “does it realy have scientific merit and educational value, or is it just a horror show?” and so on.

On the BBC they at least brought up the issue of what effect will this exhibit have on our precious organ donor program. Will people be so offended that they’ll not put that pink dot on they’re drivers liscense? I’d consider myself lucky to wind up in Von Hegan’s clutches. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a full support of the program, but the less everyone knows about the donor program the better. Everyone puts that dot on their liscense thinking their marrow will go to a kid dying of cancer, or they’re heart will save a life, and yes, that’s the first round draft pick of you guts goes. I know, I’ve talked with an organ broker whose job is to locate fresh organs, with the proper blood type and get them, despite legal hurtles, transportations laws, and not leastly objectionable family, to where they’re needed most, before the recipient dies or the organ goes bad. That’s a high stress job. But that’s just round one. Truth be told, more of your skin will wind up as penis extensions and boob jobs than covering burn victims. The book “Stiff” by Mary Roach starts in a lab filled with severed heads in baking pans awaiting facelifts. It’s not a work of fiction, it’s “The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” and it’s halfway between “The American Way of Death” and “101 uses for a dead body” with enough quirky gallows humor to help you through the rough stuff. Because even the scientifically legitimate, life-saving stuff is just as bad. Like the cadaver ranches where bodies are subjected to every possibility of what a body can go through so forensics invesitgators will have something to compare their field research against. Makes the skin crawl.

So if you ask me, the volunteers who get to spend eternity contemplating their next chess move or playing basketball in Von Hegans exhibit got the good end of the corpse pole. Providing they are in fact volunteers. While the debate down here was whether it’s right to display any corpse in a museum (or should that be non-ethnic corpse? I mean King Tut’s on display right now as well as countless Indian bones– but that’s another issue) the debate elsewhere in the world was should a person whose artistic/scientiffic medium is dead people know where his cadavers are coming from so he knows they are volunteers and not, say, executed political prisoners? Von Hagens can’t say for certain.

The man is a showman, an artist, a scientist, and a ghoul. I think he know’s exactly what he’s doing. And we’re encouraging him. I mean I’m encouraging him. The exhibit is absolutely fascinating and impacts you in weird unexpected ways. Go face down the skeleton at the heart of the lotus. You’ll be better off for it, and ask yourself, is it right?

And now, because it hasn’t been reprinted in english, the Von Hagens exhibit that featured topless “live anatomy models” as Von Hagens called them (although to truely be live anatomy models he should have featured old people, young people, fat people and thin people, and not just whatever strippers wanted to work the museum circuit) with my crudely translated from german english text.

1. With a Casting the Plastinator Gunther of Hagens selected 20 “anatomy Models”. They should mediate to the visitors from 1 to 10 June 2004 in its disputed exhibition “body worlds” nearly naked and with a venezianischen mask anonymizated from Hagens idea of “alive anatomy”. However the office for order Frankfurt forbade this plan. (Foto:ddp)


3. With the exhibition in Frankfurt Hagens prepared heart, lung, liver and kidney publicly. It wants to correct one of “horror and Fantasie” coined/shaped conception of anatomy, was called it from its Institut to the reason. (photo: strip packing)

4. So the consciousness of the visitors for a healthier life can be strengthened. (photo: strip packing)

5. Impressionen of the Casting… (photo: strip packing)









14. Professor Gunther von Hagens invented 1977 the Plastination, a method for the permanent and realistic preservation of anatomical preparations. Its exhibition “body worlds” gave world-wide exactly the same much fame to it such as criticism. (photo: strip packing)

15. Critics do not see scientific value in his work. In addition they accuse to it, the dead ones not would respect. From Hagens however its exhibition sees itself anatomy teachings for laymen as “corpse-noble” and calls. (photo: strip packing)

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