Wednesday, April 11, 2007


When I walk into Bodies: The Exhibition, I am transported to another place and time. Organs wait anxiously behind glass to be viewed by curious strangers. Entire plastinated bodies are frozen, holding tennis rackets and kicking new, shiny soccer balls as if I just walked into the middle of a really good game. In another room, red lights make calcium-dyes shimmer as if they are from another planet, or in a hip bar where they sell overpriced cocktails with adventurous names. It’s one big party in here. The staff don white lab coats. I order a metacarpus on the rocks.

But it’s not a party. Perhaps I am reminded of this by the exhibit of the alienated nervous system, its strands divorced from all other bodily elements except a brain and eyeballs, looking absolutely stunned. It sort of looks like a freaked out tadpole.

“Where am I?”

It can’t hear the answer which I learned from one of its attendants but I whisper it anyway: “You used to live in China. Do you remember?”

“What?” its eyes say. “What the hell happened?”

Maybe I need a drink after all. My friend the nervous system and everyone else here didn’t always have the Latin names they do now. When you die and are unclaimed in China, the government does not require consent before you are placed on the market to be sold to others. Cadavers aren’t cheap and private companies don’t have an easy time of acquiring them. But, if a plastination company buys you, Dr. Gunther von Hagens or one of his proteges will soak you in acetone and then, in a vacuum, liquid polymer will replace the acetone. You will feel like a pencil eraser and smell like one, too. You are posed, cured, and shipped. Now you are here, in a mall next to Urban Outfitters and a short walk from Cinnabon and the Gap. You are a specimen, a learning tool, a scientific marvel. You have been transformed into something valuable now and the Premier Exhibition company of Atlanta, Georgia knows it. They are the owners of the Bodies: The Exhibition and they take in $24 a head. Leisurely scientific inquiry isn’t cheap these days.

More people enter the exhibit so I move into the next room. I contemplate another skinless plastic body. It is beautiful. It might even be art. The polymer shows off the muscles best, sinewy and textured. As my eyes move toward the face, I see that the eyes are glass but the teeth are real. Finally, an artifact of this person’s (former) life to inspect. Excitedly, I get close as there is no barrier to prevent it. The teeth that remain in the mouth appear to be original, dark and chipped. Where were the doctors and dentists when this person was alive? I smooth my tongue over my own white, shiny, immaculate set. Welcome to global stratification.

I head for the exit.


cinderelly said...

the exhibit was here in seattle recently, and someone stole an organ...then, returned it! weird!

Mary said...

I loved this essay, or reflection, on your visit to this show. Very eloquent, and clever in just the right dose. I read it twice! I felt like I was there with you looking at the bodies. I have not been to this exhibit but I've seen pictures and ads in the paper... plus walked by the outside of it when I was at the mall. I do not want to see it myself as it makes me very uneasy. You did a great job of humanizing what are now "specimens" for inspection. Oh yeah, they were alive once, just like you and me...

pinky pinkerson said...

but was it worth $25,that's what I want to know!

i zimbra said...

No, Pinky, it wasn't. But, then again, I didn't have to pay because I went with a friend who reviewed it for the Independent.

Anonymous said...

I really want this exhibition comes to Thailand for Thais. In my opinion, this exhibition is new and usefull for them to study.

I really love to see it, but I can't. I want it comes here. I want to see it.