My first visit to this place was a few years back during my brief stint at Sunderland University. My lost weekend. On my last encounter I got to play with vials of nandrolone and learned how to drug test people or evade detection depending on your ethical leanings. It was forthright, educational and cool.
I visited again at the weekend to see the Bodyworlds exhibition. Unlike my last visit which pertained to anatomical learnings, functions of the body, human performance and errr doping, this one did not. I admit, my visit was mainly out of morbid curiosity following a documentary I watched about Gunther Von Hagens in 2010. I am not even going to bother masking this under the pretence of wishing to learn more about the motor functions of the human anatomy, which many will, and which is their right.
I got their lunchtime. The exhibition begins pretty mundanely. A few skeletons. Fairly standard anatomy class stuff. Thus, Gunther begins to ease you towards a skeleton holding a relay baton, which stands upright behind the plasticised ligaments and tendons of what once presumably made up part of its outer shell. I was not entirely sure what I was meant to be making of this anatomically, and in all honesty – after some considerable thought – I’m still not sure. Nice plasticisation (?) of the patella. And the pose really brings out the array of tendons surrounding the scapula I suppose. Thumbs up.
The exhibition ultimately climaxes in several displays seemingly curated to pay homage to amongst others, Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man,’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Autopsy of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’ but they subsequently have the affect of making you feel like you are caught up in a particularly grotesque episode of Hannibal.
Nonetheless, the part of the exhibition which summed the whole things up for me, was the several millimetre thin cross sections of the human anatomy which have ended up resembling something like prosciutto ham. And that’s kind of what it all is. The cadavers have been processed to the point where you don’t feel like you are looking at human beings. At all. In the same way looking at a slice of bacon or ham, doesn’t cause you to think of a pig. Because essentially, it isn’t. Any kind of character, distinguishing feature, or anything identifiable as particularly sentient has been stripped, and bio-chemically altered beyond any recognition.
Ultimately, any insights into anatomy are inevitably outweighed by what is seemingly part art-exhibition, part unintentional satire on human gastronomic habits played out on processed corpses. It’s all very strange and leaves you wondering what you’ve witnessed for days afterwards. To be honest, I’m still not sure.