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
"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
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.
I've seen The Runner; didn't have any luck locating a URL
with images tho.