I’m Sure This Violates Leviticus Somehow
Bodies ... The Exhibition comes to Albuquerque
By John Bear
Once the initial wave of creepy wears off, Bodies ... The Exhibition—well,maybe “creepy” is being too modest. The exhibit, which opened Sept. 9 at the Albuquerque Convention Center, features real human bodies in various stages of disassembly. The back of one of the specimens has been filleted to show the spine and muscles. A person with a constitution weaker than mine may regard “creepy” as being the understatement of the year.
Nine whole bodies are on display, but there are more than 250 specimens. I asked Dr. Roy Glover, the medical director of the exhibit, how many people these various parts came from but was unable to get an answer other than there would be nothing to be gained by knowing such information. Maybe I'm getting caught up on details.
These kinds of exhibits are often accompanied by controversy. Some people don't like the idea of human bodies put on display, either for religious reasons or out of, well, some people just don't like dead bodies on display. The source of the corpse has also caused outcry. Glover said the bodies in Bodies all come from China. (I saw this show in Las Vegas, Nev., about four years ago and couldn't help but say, “These bodies look Chinese.”)
Glover said there are two ways bodies can be collected. One is the person leaves himself to science. The other way is a person dies and no one claims his body. These people are often given to science. Otherwise they end up in a potter's ground. This information was not part of the original presentation. I had to ask.
It kind of feels like wearing Nikes. Sure, they’re comfortable, but a person in Asia probably suffered making them.
The bodies in Bodies are people no one came to claim and were presumably handed over by the Chinese government. Glover said efforts were made to locate the next of kin before they were shipped off to American medical schools. These bodies belong to the schools and are loaned out to the exhibition; that is the only legal way to score cadavers in the United States.
Now that we have that out of the way, the exhibit is interesting. The bodies on display have undergone a process that transforms them into a plastic-like substance. They aren't ghoulish cadavers or gory like an auto-wreck victim. Many of the complete specimens are catching footballs, diving for a volleyball or conducting a symphony, which seems a little silly.
Still, if you are the least bit squeamish, I'd go to the zoo or something, watch the monkeys. There are jars of fetuses on exhibit, and when I went to the show a few years back, my date was pretty upset at the sight of them. If you have a cold (I did when I went to the press junket) also stay away. There is something about preserved corpses and preexisting nausea that just isn't that cool.
Children might be scared by the exhibit, though I think I probably would have loved it at about 8 or 9 years old. It reminds me of those “Visible Man” models from my youth.
The advertised purpose of the exhibit is to allow people to learn about their anatomies in a way originally relegated only to medical schools. They can see the internal workings of their various systems and all the carnage they wreak upon said systems with various bad habits. As a former smoker and current antismoking fascist, I particularly enjoyed the pair of cancer-ridden lungs and the plastic case next to them for people to dispose of their cigarettes. The abandoned smokes are presumably forwarded to Charlie Sheen.
I had a hard time deciding whether to recommend this exhibit. On one hand, it is fascinating to see the inner workings of the human body. At the same time, it kind of feels like wearing Nikes. Sure, they’re comfortable, but a person in Asia probably suffered making them.
It’s worth seeing Bodies for the educational value, but it's important to not forget that these are real people. Be humble.
Bodies … The Exhibition
Runs through Jan. 9, 2011
Albuquerque Convention Center
401 Second Street NW, Northwest Exhibit Hall
Tickets: $22, $18 seniors, $14 children
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