Dead Creativity: Modern “Body Art” by the German Anatomist

The world has hardly seen more shocking creativity and exhibit than Human Body Exhibition. No, the theme is quite normal and even mundane: "Educational Health Exhibition". But what is hiding behind this!

You have to agree, not everyone will be willing to run around the world in search of hermits, the homeless and criminals, or more precisely, their … corpses, then cut the whole thing into pieces, dry them with acetone and then take it around the world as a “living” propaganda of “a healthy lifestyle”… Well, it occurred to the anatomist Gunter von Hagens.

Furthermore, German Grandfather (as his fans call him) or Doctor of Death (as his opponents call him) had enough strength, talent and ability to have everything organized. And now a group of approximately 200 dead people is traveling the world and is silently advising us to take care of our bodies. Quite successfully, in fact. So far, more than 20 million people have visited the Human Body Exhibition.

To learn more about the scandalous exhibition that shocks so many people (particularly the most sensitive and very religious ones), a Youth Time correspondent spoke with one of the organizers of Human Body Exhibition in Prague Kveta Gavelkova.

Could you please tell us briefly about the exhibition: where do the exhibits come from? Is each exhibit one person or is it “built” from many different human remains?

All exhibits come from China. They have been provided by Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Laboratory, which conducts research in the field of plastination. The human bodies are being cut into very thin plates and then dried by ethanol mixed with acetone, and then vacuum sealed with silicone melted in acetone. Custom made samples serve as visual aids for medical students. All exhibits are different and it is impossible to tell which one of them is one person and where several bodies were used.

Do you know who these people are? Human rights activists say that some dead bodies were illegally received from psychiatric hospitals and prisons from all over the world…

Can’t say anything about the identity of these people. As far as I know, they are anonymous donors from China who had donated their bodies to educational and research purposes. As far as the illegality is concerned, in 2004, the German Prosecutor’s Office carried out an investigation and found that all organizations that have supplied the basic material for the collection provided bodies of deceased persons legally. So there is no reason to believe otherwise.

How did this art come about?

I wouldn’t call it art. It is a method of plastination. It was discovered by the German anatomist Günter Hagens. Actually, I would compare this exhibition to a collection of natural history at National Museum. Visitors come there to learn something about animals and they visit our exhibition to gain some knowledge about humans, visual knowledge.

What do you think makes people go to the exhibition? What’s their motivation (except medical students, of course)?

People are interested in healthy living, in what they eat, drink and breathe, so it makes sense that they want to know how the human body works, where the internal organs are and how they may be damaged. The exhibits demonstrate various abnormalities in the human body caused by over-eating, sedentary lifestyles etc. You can see healthy lungs next to the blackened smoker’s lungs. These real and sometimes shocking examples provide a much stronger reason to re-think one’s lifestyle than any textbook words or pictures. Every visitor learns in detail about the human body and understands its vulnerability and the need to responsibly take care of it. Indeed, healthy body is home to healthy spirit.

Has anybody wanted to buy any of the exhibits? What is the legal aspect of the issue?

I do not have such information. Here in Prague, we do not sell items on display and so we do not handle any legal aspects of this issue.

What do they do with the unused organs? The skin, for example?

I know that exhibits which are no longer used for educational or demonstration purposes are cremated. I think the same happens to the unused body parts.

The bodies of these people have not been buried. Their ghosts do not bother you, do not roam the exhibition?

No, you should not be afraid. Of course, some people would come and feel uncomfortable at first. But very soon it would pass. The atmosphere here is very calm and focused. Let me put it this way: this is more of a scientific exhibition than a horror story. Its goal is not to scare, but to explain and demonstrate. We always have some medical students on the floor and they can answer any questions and tell visitors interesting things about the human body. Do you know how many muscles you must use to make just one step?

No, I do not.

200! 200 muscles to make only one step!

Interesting … What is the Church’s reaction to this exhibition? Mass media in different countries (especially conservative Catholic ones) has reported that clergy called Human Body Exhibition “mockery of the corpses covered by the mask of science”.

Here in Czech Republic we have had no problems with the Church. No vandalism either, thanks God.

How many people have already visited the Human Body Exhibition? What kind of reviews do you get?

I can’t give you an exact figure, but we are pleased with the attendance. People are lining up on weekends, especially on Saturdays. And reviews are very positive. Some visitors come more than once.

The main dream of Herr Hagens, the founding father of the Human Body Exhibition, was to find a real home for these cut and dried people wandering the world. He would like to open the “Museum of Men” where the exhibits would have “permanent residence”. By the way, Mr. Hagens is going to donate his own body to his beloved enterprise. He has already reached an agreement with his wife, he claims, that after his death she will conduct his plastination.

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