Last night, I had the great good fortune to attend the official launch of Body Worlds 2 at the Montreal Science Centre.
If you've never heard of Body Worlds, check out the Wikipedia entry for Body Worlds. It is the creation of Gunther von Hagens, an anatomist who patented a process called "plastination," and Body Worlds is an exhibition of real plastinated human bodies, displayed in various lifelike poses and showing human anatomy in great detail.
At first, the idea seems a tad gruesome, and indeed, the various Body Words exhibitions have been protested all over the world. France apparently still refuses to allow it in that country (so the Montreal exhibition is the first time it has been translated into French), and it remains controversial in many places. To cite the Wikipedia entry on von Hagens:
The exhibition went on tour in 1995, and has met with public interest and controversy in numerous cities around the world since. Critics contend that the exhibition is sensationalist and that the artistic, lifelike poses into which the plastinated cadavers have been fixed is degrading and disrespectful.Personally, I found the exhibition to be highly respectful and, far from degrading, a tribute to the truly astounding beauty of the human body. I've been to many of these launches, and the public at these events is largely a glad-handing, PR-oriented, see-and-be-seen type of crowd. After a couple of glasses of wine, they generally breeze through the exhibit (if they view it at all) to get out of there as fast as they can.
But as soon as I entered Body Worlds, I immediately felt a difference. There was a hush over the exhibition hall, even with several hundred people inside. Even the most jaded visitor immediately understood that they were in the presence of real people. And the exhibition itself is fascinating and breathtaking, gently guiding visitors step by step from the tiny bones of the inner ear, through various individual parts and systems of the body, to culminate (from an emotional standpoint) in a pregnant woman with a five-month-old fetus. The exhibition's sheer beauty blew me a way, but it was also an exceedingly touching and thought provoking experience. Above all, it was human. I came away with a profound respect for the human body and the sense that beauty really isn't just skin deep.
If you ever get a chance to see Body Worlds, I would suggest that you not pass it up.