Last week, when a client scheduled a meeting at their South Bay office, I immediately knew what I was going to do as soon as the meeting ended: drive straight to downtown San Jose, and head for the Body Worlds 2 exhibit at the Tech Museum.
I've been anticipating this exhibit for more than 4 years, after I first saw photos of Gunther von Hagens' stunning work at Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's home. The images I saw there were of bodies in motion - muscles and tendons and bones made pliable through a process called plastination. The photographs were extraordinary; I couldn't wait to see the exhibit live.
If it sounds odd that someone should be so excited about plastinated human bodies, I should tell you that I love all things anatomical. Back in 1993, after I graduated from college with a plan to attend medical school, I taught human anatomy and physiology to firefighters and EMT's. If these tough, brave people found it strange that a 21-year old woman was explaining the process of bone regeneration, they didn't show it. They were wonderful, and it was a fabulous experience. Even though I ultimately decided not to go the med school route, I'm still drawn to skeletons and skulls and anatomical curiosities.
The Body Worlds exhibit was in Portland earlier this year. Some of my sisters went, and sent back rave reviews. I was jealous, but I knew my turn would come.
On Tuesday, it did.
I wasn't disappointed.
The artistry and craftsmanship involved in the plastination process is nothing short of breathtaking; the process allows the organs to maintain a 3-dimensional shape and invites discovery on a whole new level. I've logged time picking through organs on a cadaver, but this was a completely different animal.
The entire exhibit was phenomenal, and there were some startling surprises, including one called The Expanded Body, in which plastinated body parts were attached to transparent strings and hung like a mobile, creating an incredible 360-degree experience that I still can't stop thinking about.
Many of the bodies were posed in motion, and one of my favorites was titled The Angel - a woman in a standing pose, arms lifted to the sky, latissimus dorsi folded back like wings.
I couldn't help but wonder how each of these humans had died, and at what age. Who were they; what were their stories?
Who loved them, and whom did they love?
Before I left, I walked back around the perimeter of the exhibit, scanning the figures one last time. All of a sudden, I felt incredibly moved at the beauty of the shared human experience. We are so different, yet so much the same. Bones and blood, sinew and skin, simultaneously fragile and strong, beautiful and grotesque, we each take the journey from birth to death, not knowing how long the journey will last nor what we will encounter in between.
As trite as it sounds, all that matters is how we treat one another along the way.
Go, if there is any way you possibly can.
** Note: The picture above is a snapshot of a professional photograph, taken at Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's home in 2003.