Thoughts on Body Worlds
The thing that struck me about Mr. Von Hagen’s exhibit, which I went to see at the O2 arena after a stiflingly hot journey round the M25 on a July afternoon, was how conflicted it made me feel.
On the one hand the artist in me could appreciate it as a piece of art. There is an undeniable, if slightly unnerving, beauty to the results of his process and how he and his team arrange the bodies of their subjects. The exhibits are also fascinating from an educational standpoint, offering a unique viewpoint on anatomy and how our bodies work. But the fact remains they are bodies.
As I walked around the exhibit, secretly glad that it had never occurred to me to bring my sketchbook along so I didn’t have to sit amongst the pretentious art students who dotted the floor and served as a sort of comic relief to the thought provoking subject matter when unobservant members of the public inevitably collided with them, I found there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on which was making me uneasy.
It hit me full force when I rounded the corner to one of the final pieces: a pair of these “plastinated” corpses posed to simulate sex. It suddenly dawned on me that here were the remains of two people who had probably never met in life but were now on display performing one of the most intimate acts two humans can do together. It wasn’t the lack of consent exactly, it had been made very clear that everyone whose remains were in this exhibit had willingly donated them, but I found myself wondering how explicit that agreement was. Does Gunter von Hagen, or one of his associates, approach these people with a particular pose in mind for them? Or is it decided later when the content of the show is being discussed?
Once you start pulling at that particular thread, of course, you question everything being portrayed by the exhibition. The man chosen to be the ballet dancer may well have been a bigot who thought dance was “just for girls” just as either of the participants in the sex scene may well have been celibate or gay in life. I suppose it’s that surrender of control which makes death all the more frightening to us.
It’s not that I object to these exhibits or find them offensive, or that I wouldn’t recommend going to one for yourself. It’s just that seeing these people used as raw materials in this way made me think… Which I suppose is the intent behind any art.