Plasticized corpse exhibit shocks, fascinates public

EDMUND L ANDREWS N.Y. Times January 8 1998 MANNHEIM, Germany

 

Until recently, this midsized industrial city wasn't known for

much more than its ice-hockey team. But that was before the

Runner, the Muscleman and the Expanded Body.

 

The three are among the displays at "Human Body World," an

exhibition on human anatomy at Mannheim's Museum of Technology

and Work. The lifesized figures are posed in familiar human

activities like running, standing or sitting, but unlike the

specimens at a conventional science museum, the Runner and his

numerous colleagues are real human corpses. Preserved through

a process called "plastination," the bodies, donated by

volunteers, have been transformed into what the inventor of

the process calls "anatomical artwork."

 

And they have stirred up a debate across Germany over the

boundaries of morality, art and science.

 

The Runner is frozen in the loping gait of a marathoner,

stripped of almost everything except bones and muscles. Its

outer muscles fly backward off its bones, as if the muscles

were being blown by the wind rushing past.

 

The Muscleman is a bare skeleton that holds up its entire

system of muscles, which looks like an astronaut's bulky

spacesuit dangling on a hanger. The Figure with Skin retains

all its muscles and organs, but its skin is draped like a coat

over one arm. The Expanded Body resembles a human telescope,

its skeleton pulled apart so people can see what lies beneath

the skull and the rib cage.

 

Catholic and Protestant church leaders have denounced the

exhibit as a breach of human dignity. The Premier of the

state of Baden-Wurttemberg would like to shut down the

exhibit. The local district prosecutor is trying to decide if

he can bring criminal charges against museum officials.

 

Yet the show has also attracted heartfelt praise. Defenders

say that, far from being macabre, the exhibition celebrates

the wonder and the fragility of the human body in all its

dimensions.

 

"I do not see this as a room full of corpses or as a hall of

death," said Gunther von Hagens, a medical doctor who is a

lecturer in anatomy at the University of Heidelberg School of

Medicine who invented the plastination technique and assembled

the exhibit here. "What this does is build bridges back to

your own body. When vou look at the models, you can recognize

yourself as a memher of the human species. Your humanity

becomes clear."

 

More than 200,000 people have passed through the exhibit since

it opened two months ago, and visitors now wait as long as

three hours to get in.

 

 

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I've seen The Runner; didn't have any luck locating a URL

with images tho.

 

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