Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Body Exhibit

I'm having trouble with this photo hosting thing, and unable to put three photos in one post. If you know the magic formula, let me know. Anyhow...

I went to see the Body Exhibit at USC and was amazed. And disturbed. And overwhelmed. And desensitized. And shamed. And creeped-out. So many things happen when you are witnessing an exhibit of real cadavers that have been made into plastic. And boy, I think, like everyone, I experienced all of them. A friend of mine put it best when she said it made her kind of melancholy; thinking "wow, we are so complicated!" and "gee, we're not that complicated" all at the same time. It's very true. And there is an element of seeing something you're not supposed to see. Especially knowing that it's going on inside of you at the same time.

I need to stop here for an ode to bones for a minute. How beautiful and sturdy. The hard exterior shell and the delicate cross-hatch of the inside. You couldn't come up with a better design. Spongy, resilient, hard, giving, fragile. Wow. I was knocked out by the bones.

There is really too much to explore in this exhibit, and I'm sure I will come back and add to this as my feelings coagulate/coalesce. At the moment, it's still slightly overwhelming. And even slightly ridiculous. A companion turned to another friend and said "does it smell like beef jerky in here?" And no, it didn't, but it looked like it at times, which was more than a little odd.

The thing that struck me the most was the differences in each of the specimens/cadavers. How they lived their lives were apparent in their bodies. There was a teacher who looked atrophied, a skate boarder, ballet dancer, a "yoga lady" and soccer player in peak form--all posed in their activities. Even a rider on a horse. (Though I do have to say it was a shock to see the skin left on the ballet dancer's genitalia, but nothing else. In her pose, it was quite apparent.

This leads me to the most surreal aspect for me--what was left on. The exhibit not only posed the figures, but chose how many layers of muscle and skin to remove, and where. So there was a man holding his skin, or dehydrated nipples on the breasts of the yoga teacher. Or hair left on different parts of different bodies. Which added to the macabre for me, somehow. Or perhaps made me realize how human these cadavers used to be.

Even more upsetting were the disembodied examples of lung tumors, liver disease, arteries and veins blocked and shunted, the list goes on. And on. I vowed for the moment to live healthier, to stretch and exercise and eat holistic foods. Then we went to dinner and I had a beer. but Salmon as well.

I need to take off, but the pictures on either side of the Magritte are from Gorev Bidloo, an academic and anatomist from Holland in the early 17th century. The piece I saw at the exhibit had partial faces sketched with skin flaps and nailed through the nose, as if hanging from a wall. And for some reason he really reminds me of the surrealists. I know there are better examples than the magritte, but you can see the echo of the head flaps in the sheeets on the lovers. Bidloo seemed a bit of a sadist from his drawings; one suspects he was interested in more than just drawing the human body for anatomical reasons. But he seems to have in common with the Surrealists the fetishism of the broken body--I'm thinking of Dali, especially, I suppose, but I know I have seen more elsewhere. I'll keep looking. Meanwhile--food for thought--there is nothing new--three centuries before it was being done.

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