Chris Uggen's Blog: bodyworlds

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


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?


At 10:57 PM, Blogger Gidget said...

chris - regarding #5: {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)

i could not agree more....

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Lars said...

I would argue that maybe this is the point of the exhibit. Namely, bodies matter. As in, it is the physical body that hungers and tires, that exercises and gets broken falling down during the Pike's Peak marathon (or chafes). My understanding of the exhibit was that it points out and focuses attention exactly on the very real materiality of the body. But I dunno.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks gidget and lars. i was truly impressed with the exhibit, so i hope my post wasn't too negative. i just came out of it feeling a little less human in some important way. good art should generate intense reactions, right? by that standard, bodyworlds is a stunning achievement.

At 3:06 AM, Anonymous Aaron Ginsburg said...

The exhibit fails to treat the bodies with the dignity and respect we all deserve, dead or alive. It is about show business and money. Please visit my site for more information at

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Also dig the overall vibe of this post, Chris. A young lad at the facility, fresh off a school field trip to the exhibit, demonstrated a punching motion for me and then proceeded to inform me of precisely how many muscles and bones his gesture had utilized. Not so sure about the prosocial benefits of this field trip with this particular young man, though he did seem rather enthused about what he had learned.


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