Gadling Attends “Bodies…The Exhibition”

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend Bodies…The Exhibition. For those who don’t know, the exhibition is equal parts art show, life-sized Gray’s Anatomy textbook, science class, and side show all rolled into one. And it’s absolutely, unequivocally amazing.

Rather than use artist’s renderings or anatomist’s models, the men’s and women’s Bodies on exhibit at Bodies are, in fact, all real human bodies! First preserved using standard mortuary science techniques, the specimens are then dissected, immersed in acetone, placed in a vat of silicone, hardened, and put on display. While it may sound “gross” or “disrespectful,” I think everyone should attend the exhibit: it’s a fascinating look at what makes us…us.

We purchased our tickets online, showed up at the exhibit hall in Atlanta, and presented them. Security at the exhibition was extremely tight, and they wouldn’t let me carry my camera inside. Consequently: no personal photos. However, I’ve found some representative images from the show, to give you a sense of what you might see.

The first room displayed some bones, a skull, and a human skeleton, none of which were that shocking…until you remembered these were real hands and real bones of real people.

Throughout the exhibit, the walls had lots of “fun facts” displayed on them, like:

  • A human being loses an average of 40 to 100 strands of hair a day.
  • Every person has a unique tongue print.
  • According to German researchers, the risk of heart attack is higher on Monday than any other day of the week.
  • Every square inch of the human body has an average of 32 million bacteria on it.

To a trivia buff like me, the “fun facts” were almost as interesting as the displays.

Moving on, we passed into a room explaining how muscles, tendons, and bones work together to support a body. The detail, colors, and complexity in the displays were unnerving but beautiful. Evidently, some of the displays took more than a year to create!

From muscles, we headed to the room that was the most visually stunning — the circulatory system. With the lights down low, the reds and blues of the arteries and veins were like coral formations or trippy Pink Floyd light shows on a miniature scale. It was truly, truly amazing.

My favorite “fun fact” of the day was in this room: “All the blood vessels in the body joined end to end would stretch 62,000 miles or two and a half times around the earth.” Unbelievable. And that’s in each and every person on the planet!

From there, we moved through some rooms that discussed and showcased disease — including a semi-disturbing overview of fetal pathology. (The fetus-specific component of the Exhibit is in a separate room, so you can skip it if deformed fetuses seem a little…too much. Nevertheless, it was very interesting.) Finally, we learned about the internal organs, from the heart down all the way down to the colon.

If jayntguru’s photos don’t really do it for you, then check out these 2-minute videos of the exhibit. (Quicktime is available, too!) Alternatively, National Geographic has an excellent slideshow of some of the displays. (Natch.)

But wait a minute! Hold your horses! Where did all these Bodies come from? Of course, there’s some controversy surrounding the Exhibit. The Bodies are comprised of cadavers originating from China’s Dalian Medical School. Some people have expressed displeasure at this, because the Dalian Medical School allegedly uses anonymous cadavers in its program. In fact, according to Harry Wu, a Chinese detainee for 19 years, medical students frequently helped themselves to bodies from the prison cemetery. This allegation is (relatively) unsubstantiated; however, the fact remains that the Bodies are “unclaimed or unidentified individuals from China. As such, neither the deceased nor their families consented to the use of the corpses in the exhibit.”

Okay, so it’s a little gruesome to think about where these Bodies came from and who these people are. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the value of learning about ourselves outstrips the discomfort I feel about “harvesting” bodies. But this is my own, personal opinion — other people certainly disagree.

In total, we spent a little over 2 hours in the exhibit, and I enjoyed every minute of it. From the dropped jaws, greedy eyes, and lingering stares in the Exhibition Hall, I’m pretty sure everyone else did, too. While you might think an exhibit like this is not for the faint of heart, if you can stomach looking through a well-designed anatomy book, you can probably tackle this exhibit.

If you’re interested, the traveling show heads next to New York City’s South Sea Seaport AND to Seattle’s 800 Pike Street. It moves on from there. Tickets run around $27, and there’s a $5 charge for the audio tour that explains what you’re seeing. While it’s not critical, I’d suggest paying for it, as it provides information beyond what’s posted on the signs, and allows you to inspect the Bodies while the narrator is explaining what you’re seeing.

Have you seen the Exhibit? What did you think?