bodyworlds, an anatomical exhibition of real human bodies, is at the science museum of minnesota through labor day. i'm sure the exhibit has inspired many to overwrought prose, and i'm certainly no exception. here are five simplistic personal observations:
1. the film preceding the exhibit showed the bodies in social groups (families, workplaces, schools). aside from a pregnant woman and child, however, the exhibit tended to treat them as atomized individuals. the bodies were engrossing but, in my opinion, the little props and costumes (a cigarette, a hat, a torch) did little to put the magnificent bodies in a social context. instead, they just looked like the sort of clumsy props and costumes that an unimaginative adolescent might append to a snowman. one could imagine making some bold statements by arraying bodies in war or in love or in somehow showing the underneath-it-all sameness of members of various social groups.
2. plastinated muscles look a lot like roast beef. our bones look like those of chickens or other animals. we are more than meat, of course, but we are undeniably meat. again, my impressions were likely colored by the individualized presentation (as well as by all the restaurant work i did in my teens and twenties).
3. the exhibit certainly engaged my intellect, but didn't do much for my soul. i walked out of the museum exhausted and feeling a little empty. i can see why religious leaders have frowned on such naked portrayals of the body as meat or machine. did i miss a more ennobling feature or message? the mother and child was amazing but the "behind the curtain" exhibit of fetal deformities seemed gratuitous and unnecessary -- a cheap carnival freak show with new age music and lighting.
4. that said, the basketball player (shown in the poster above) is an inspiring display of power and strength. his body likely ranks as one of the most beautiful things i have seen in a museum. in his honor, i did six extra sets at the gym today. my shoulder hurts right now and, thanks to careful study of the exhibit, i now know exactly where and why it hurts.
5. ok, this is a trite junior-high-level observation, but might be worth reiterating: without skin and the little fatty layer beneath the skin, faces are virtually indistinguishable. i know that faces are superficial, of course, but came away amazed at how absurdly trivial they are when you come right down to it. humans make a big deal out of a bit of skin and fat at the top of our bodies. do we really fall in love with another's face? or do we connect with something behind the face -- the sweetness, wit, compassion, peace, empathy, longing, warmth, appreciation, intelligence -- that has more to do with soul than body?