Monday, October 09, 2006

Body Worlds 3

Last Friday, October 6, we managed to organise a group of 18 people visiting Body Worlds 3, here at the "Telus World of Science" in Vancouver.

Perhaps you have heard of the Body Worlds series of exhibitions. For those who haven't, briefly: Dr. Gunther von Hagens invented a way to store meat (er, I mean dead people) using a fairly complicated process he termed "plastination". Essentially, water is removed from tissues using a series of dehydrating steps (acetone is sometimes used) and replaced with a hard plastic resin, in a manner that allows whole-tissue preservation of the entire body of a large mammal, such as Homo sapiens. Idiots have criticised these exhibits for various "moral" reasons, resulting in increased (free) publicity for the exhibits, and public demonstrations of the mental failings of said idiots.

We spent about two hours at the exhibits, which was enough time to really see pretty much everything, and get mildly sore feet. The exhibit itself was well done, I thought, with tastefully-presented, well thought-out displays of both whole bodies (sans skin, subcutaneous fat, and sometimes other tissues) and individual displays of organs or body sections. Most tissues were presented in life-like colours, since the plastination process is apparently colourless. Even fat was preserved looking like fat, in its natural off-white colour.

Seeing the musculo-skeletal systems in fine detail but in place was my favourite part. Most of the whole-body displays showed the skeletal muscles, and how they interact with each other and the bones, ligaments and tendons during normal movement very well. There was one in-case display of a complete arm with associated torso material - essentially, everything from the fingernails back to the first few ribs, and the entire shoulder joint complex. Most displays were well positioned, such that one could view from any angle.

The exhibit was organised by organ system, starting with the skeleton, moving through major muscle groups, a brief stop to discuss skin, and then each major organ system, such as circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive, renal, reproductive, etc. The final display was a series of fetuses at various developmental stages, with a good description of the timing and terminology of human development, in a separate room to avoid disturbing the wussy.

The only real downsides I found at the exhibit were the crowding and the lack of any subcutaneous fat or skin on almost all displays. We were let in at the start of the evening block, at 6:00, so there were few people ahead of us initially, though I think I went through a bit slower than most. Despite this, our invasion of 18 people at once placed a serious strain on the perimeter viewing areas of most displays. Patience was the order of the day, although this was tested by the fools who brought along their young children - are you surprised your 8-year-old isn't happy looking at really naked people?

It might have been nice to see a few more diplays showing the normal human variations in both body size (lots of smallish people, nobody close to my height) and skin/fat condition. Obviously, the plastinated people were rendered anonymous, so extensive skin coverings, especially of the face and genitals was not going to happen. One display, "Star Warrior", included bands of intact skin and underlying tissue throughout the body, to show the (tight) spatial relationships between all of the tissues and organs viewed earlier in the exhibit.

Overall, I thought Body Worlds 3 was excellent, and well worth the $15 (CAD) price of admission for our large group of (mostly) students after 6:00 pm. Normal admission is apparently $18 for students, $20 for normal people, and higher during day, but I still think I'd be willing to pay that much.

Organising 18 people is no small task. Melanie and I managed to pull it off, mostly thanks to Melanie, as my organisational function was primarily as the bank, since the group-rate tickets had to be purchased in bulk in advance, on my MasterCard. I compared it to herding cats several times.

Afterwards, perhaps around 8:00, a subset of the group returned to the Commercial drive neighbourhood, ("The Drive", in local parlance) for some late dinner and drinks at Tobey's pub. All week I'd been experiencing times, mainly in the mid-afternoon, where I'd stop what I was doing and think "I really, really, want a beer". So the pint of Okanagan Springs Pale Ale I had at around 8:45 tasted damn good. To bad I had to drive later, and couldn't just sit and drink all night like I wanted to.


Carlo said...

Hey sweet description of Body Worlds. There was a similar event in Toron(t)o (I'm trying to emphasize the apparently silent 'T' which I think is bullshit) but I couldn't find the time to go. Surprisingly, Julie was at the event with her mom on the same night that you were. She also enjoyed it... wish I could too.

TheBrummell said...

Damn, I missed Julie! It might have been socially awkward to run into her in front of a dissected person, with her mom.

The Vancouver event is on until mid-January, and is touring around for a lot longer - perhaps BW 3 will go to Tahrahna sometime. Or BW 4, should they ever make one.

Interestingly, at the exhibit there was a sign stating that more than 6000 people had donated themselves to BW, which implies they have quite a bit of tissue (tons, literally) to work with.