‘BODIES… The Exhibition’ is a fascinating though morally dubious concept, writes Alison Lee.
IT’S SELDOM the Ambassador has seen an audience this civilised. Instead of the usual horde of raucous teenagers queuing up for a rock concert, the venue has lately been playing host to people of all ages, from doctors to schoolchildren. They come flocking to see a science exhibition, of all things.
Inside, the atmosphere is hushed, and the exhibition-goers faces are serious as they carefully examine the specimens and read the captions. But this is no ordinary museum. On display are dissected, preserved bodies. Human bodies.
‘BODIES… The Exhibition’ has travelled the world, claiming to “educate” the public on human biology. It has been steeped in controversy since its birth in 2005, in Tampa, Florida. Premier Exhibitions Ltd., the company behind the exhibition, claim to have received the bodies through the plastination lab of the Dalian Medical University of the People’s Republic of China.
However, doubt has been cast over the claim since it was revealed that the aforementioned lab is not affiliated with the university. All we know is they are unclaimed and unidentified. Thus, none of these people have formally donated their bodies to science. Their families don’t realise that they’re being used in this manner. They may well be the bodies of executed political prisoners from Chinese jails.
BODIES… The Exhibition’ has travelled the world, claiming to “educate” the public on human biology
Bearing this in mind, it’s difficult to attend the exhibit without your view being clouded by cynicism. But if truth be told, ‘BODIES… The Exhibition’ is a marvel of medical technology. The cadavers have been perfectly preserved using plastination techniques, which replace the water and lipids of the body with acetone and then plastics.
Moreover, the dissections have been carried out to maximise the viewer’s ability to examine the specimens from all angles, both inside and out. We’re given the power to comprehend how our organs and tissues fit together to create the bafflingly complex machine that is the human body.
Some of the exhibits are stunningly beautiful; casts of blood vessels from different organs look like intricate webs of delicate red filigree. Other exhibits are disturbing and thought-provoking, such as the sections of smokers’ lungs ravaged by emphysema and cancer.
The exhibition layout also helps draw the visitor deep into the mysterious world of anatomy. The Ambassador has been divided into dim rooms illuminated by projections of different human cell types upon the walls. The specimens all feature informative plaques – though admittedly, the facts are pretty basic and could easily be found in any Junior Cert science textbook.
Even the promise of “education” doesn’t quite justify the entrance fee: A hefty €20 for an adult, and €16 for students. The bottom line is that this enterprise is profiting from the exhibition of the corpses of people who may not have given their consent to be used for anything of this nature.
Were it a university or established museum that held such an exhibition, and were the bodies used those of verified donors, this event could be a real step forward in how we learn about biology. But an MCD-promoted exhibition hidden behind the shady-sounding name of “Premier Exhibitions Ltd.” doesn’t quite ring true. It’s a shame such a potentially valuable educational tool has been reduced to the level of a dubious travelling show.
‘BODIES… The Exhibition’ runs at The Ambassador for a limited time only. Student Entrance Fee: €16.