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The art of 'Body Worlds Vital', A review

"Body Worlds Vital" exhibit in Boston

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We had a chance to view the "Body Worlds Vital" exhibit in Boston on Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2014. That was an interesting day to pick for a tour for those who celebrate Ash Wednesday. This display definitely reminds one of their mortality, but turns death into a way to help the greater good with education. We certainly stepped away with more knowledge than when we entered. (Who knew there was such a thing as smoker's leg? Not us.)

“Body of Open Doors"
“Body of Open Doors"©Pearlescence Photography
"The Runner" from the "Body Worlds Vital" exhibit
"The Runner" from the "Body Worlds Vital" exhibit©Pearlescence Photography

Although the main goal of the exhibit involves learning and it certainly is a medical student's dream with so many specimens behind glass, there are some aspects of art interwoven into the gallery.

For example, look at the pictures here. If I had not read this description, I would have been convinced that the red lines forming a head was an artist's sculpture and not something done in a laboratory. "Blood vessel configurations are perfect samples of the inner profiles of blood vessels formed by injecting the vessels with dyed plastic then dissolving away the tissues."

Most of the full-body models had a plaque of information to go along with it. This is not dissimilar to how any Objet d'art may have an artist statement. The "Winged Man" mentions: "The hat highlights the unusual presentation and also creates a symbolic link between life and death. It was put on this plastinate to make it look more lively and humorous. Beauty and humor motivate learning, while horror hinders it." We were happy to see that even minute details were taken into account for the full effect of the presentation.

Most of the plastinates are posed in athletic positions to show the vitality of an active body. Some are even equipped with props like a baseball bat, hockey gear (Bruins themed for Boston), a lasso, a sword and so forth to give an obvious connection. Many of the bodies are manipulated for emphasis on certain muscle groups, nerve clusters, or to show the many layers of bone before you get to the organs. This isn't a chaotic and asymmetrical rearranging like a Picasso painting. Take a look at the slideshow. Everything is there, just cut or pulled to the side for a unique view of the human body. "The Runner" is our favorite, because it looks so alien and yet that is a human, deconstructed. In addition, "Body of Open Doors" is certainly something one could examine for a long while. Although it's not as visually dynamic and thus not pictured, "Nerve Leonardo" plays homage to Leonardo DaVinci's "Vitruvian Man"

Whether intentional or a happy accident, the reflections in the glass, make the displays appear to be moving, like in a dance. Even the shadows can play into the meaning and overall feel of the presentation, so the lighting is very important, too. Other art displays include body casts and food photography to highlight the cultural and financial differences in nutrition.

While visiting "Body Worlds Vital" is a rewarding experience, it is not for the faint of heart. Make no mistake, these are real bodies on display and some may find that creepy. While the material is meant to be scholastic, there needs to be a certain level of maturity for viewing. Since you can see under the skin of these bodies, it leaves nothing to the imagination in the genital and chest areas. We would advise visiting parents and educators to be prepared for that.

"Body Worlds Vital" is a fusion of art and medical science. The goal is to spread the knowledge to make healthy life decisions and make you feel something. The exhibit is successful at giving the facts and giving an inside glimpse into the deeper meanings of what it is to be human.

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