Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cavorting Cadavers in the dance of life

Can you imagine in the not so distant future that Body Worlds 2, an artistic exhibition of human cadavers, created by Gunter von Hagen’s plastinated process, could be featured as part of Body Zone at the Queensland Museum South Bank, Brisbane or at the Scienceworks museum in Melbourne? Currently on display at the museums of Science and Industry in Philadelphia, this exhibition of real human bodies belongs here in Australia, as well.

Plastination is a modern mummification process that allows entire bodies to be preserved and displayed after the fat in biopsied body parts has been replaced with modern plastic as a preservative. (BodyWorlds2, September 2005)

In the past, medical students used human cadavers preserved in formaldehyde to supplement Gray’s Anatomy, a textbook on the human body. Today, scentless displays of plastinated bodies posed as though they were about to move into motion are available for viewing by laypersons in this exhibition. Spending an hour with von Hagen’s twenty corpses minus their skins in the BodyWorlds2 exhibition allows museum goers an extraordinary opportunity to understand just how various body parts interact.


For instance, in the Queensland Museum’s Body Zone, the Biking with Boney display allows youngsters to ride tandem on a bicycle with a plastic skeleton in order to see how joints function. Featured are special joints made just for the museum visitor. (Body Zone, October 2005)

Von Hagen’s plastinated bodies offer real human bones to complement one’s understanding of how joints interact with the tendons and muscles that support them. The two exhibits combined would allow museum goers a fuller understanding of the working of human joints.

The current Hundreds of bones exhibit on display in Body Zone at the Queensland Museum would be a greater teaching tool if the museum added a BodyWorlds2 model with muscles, tendons, and ligaments attached to those bones.

“Frightening and disgusting” are terms used by some to describe this exhibit now touring North America and hopefully arriving in Australia at some date in the near future. However, with respectful intent, it is possible to view the several systems of the human body in three dimensions, to see muscles connecting, tendons and ligaments joining, bones supporting, and nerves and blood vessels energizing bodies that are neither frightening nor disgusting. Viewers can respond to the artfully displayed body as a total functioning entity. One begins to have a new respect for one’s own body when viewing the complexity and dynamics evident in these biopsied human specimens.

If literature gives us the opportunity to understand the emotional similarities between human beings regardless of culture, plastination and the BodyWorlds2 exhibit allows us an opportunity to understand that once the skin has been removed, the similarities between us outweigh in every instance the differences.


This exhibition, which I saw at the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry in February of 2005 and that is now on display in Philadelphia, may come to Australia at some time in the future. It is one of the most celebratory compendiums of dead humanity I have experienced.

17 million people from Taipei to Singapore, from Munich to Los Angeles have so far visited the BodyWorlds exhibitions. Not everyone finds the exhibition a positive experience. For instance, In Munich the exhibition was closed as a result of community concern. Von Hagens responded by scheduling the next exhibition of BodyWorlds in North America where it has been displayed in San Francisco, Los Angles, Chicago, Toronto, and Philadelphia where it is currently open.

Obviously, not everyone agrees with the concerns of the Germans. The individuality of each of the plastinated bodies on display and the respect for the exhibition from the group with whom I travelled through the museum in February 2005 convince me that this is no circus sideshow. Indeed, this is a teaching opportunity, a time to experience in entirely natural ways what it means to physically function as a human.

As a result of the patented process, plastination, developed by Gunther von Hagens and the gift of their bodies by the dying, Australians can see with clarity just how connections are made in the human body. When the ballerina is on point, when the skateboarder is upside down coming off of a particularly vivacious run, when the soccer player is at full tilt in his goal kick, when the male body builder is using his shoulder and back muscles to keep himself prone on the rings, when the three day eventer is about to take the highest jump in the show on the back of her graceful, powerful stallion, we can see how the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and spine function to produce spectacular action.


For instance, I have arthritis in my left knee. Although I have seen plastic models of my knee and plastic skeletons, I have had no real idea of how my knee works until I viewed twenty different human cadavers with muscles and tendons in tact captured in a moment of movement. In order to offer more specific information, some models have artificial joints surgically implanted. Perhaps for the first time, the general public can see just how these man-made joints not only function, but also fit into existing real body parts.

The brochure, provided by the California Science Center where we viewed Body Worlds2, uses the terms complexity and elegance to describe the display. It is true that through this exhibit one can see, for the first time, if one is not a medical practitioner, how the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bone structures provide movement, balance, and symmetry to the human body.

Not only are the twenty cadavers posed as though they were vital and engaged in activity thus showing the extension of movement, but the body parts, both diseased and healthy displayed side by side in glass cabinets, point out the effects of certain negative habits or environments on the body. The Philadelphia exhibition includes a model with diseased smoker’s lungs. Normal livers are dis[played beside distended, diseased livers to show the effects of life stye practices.
It is a quiet delight to see parents pointing out body parts to their children who respectfully make note of the effects of certain life style choices. Surely this exhibit will have more influence on children’s choices in future than any media informational. The graphic nature of this display may offend some, but every one with whom I interacted throughout the exhibition expressed wonder and amazement at the strong visual impression the exhibit provided.

Can this exhibit be described as artistic? Indeed! There is no doubt that this is an artistic mix of science and art coming together as all good museum exhibitions tend to do. The symmetry and beauty that is available in holographic displays of the natural environment, the Hubble photographs of outer space, and the beauty of geometric fractals are now joined by BodyWorks2, static but in motion. Body Worlds2 is a beautiful display of the human. Each cadaver, minus his or her skin, resonates a personality, an individual who made a unique contribution to the world in which he or she lived. There is a sense of honouring humanity here.

Linda Manley, a year 11 public school science teacher commented, “Body Worlds2? Although it seems funny, I guess my first impression was how small the lungs are! I always thought their size was much larger. I would encourage anyone who has ever wondered how our bodies function to see this truly amazing display of the human experience ”.

Becca Frenel, another secondary school teacher, who saw the exhibit in Los Angeles in February 2005 commented, “I loved Body Worlds2 - the amazing muscles and tissues that connect us and support us and hold us together - loved it - fascinating”.

Some have noted the similarity between the work done by Leonardo Da Vinci who exhumed bodies and drew the musculature and underlying bones and tendons and the work of Gunther von Hagens who allows us to see how the body works and what constitutes healthy living. This array of plastinated human corpses is not a funeral. It is instead a celebration, not only of the lives of each of the cadavers, but also of all humanity, of the amazing manner in which beings function on a physical level.

If I ever thought of the body as a temple, it was always as a temple that held the personality. After lingering in von Hagen’s display of plastinated bodies, I am sure that the body itself is as amazing, complex, and beautiful in it’s functioning as the personality is in introducing that same body to the world. Seeing this exhibit can be equated with having a spiritual experience of awe and respect for what it means to be human, what it means to be alive on this planet.

In the final display of the exhibition, behind artistic curtaining so that those who wish to avoid it may, stands a cadaver of a young pregnant woman. This 30+-year-old pregnant female died along with her foetus. Many question the use of her body, but seeing the foetus snuggled so comfortably inside the opened uterus and the mother’s protecting hands around her abdomen, leaves one with a great sadness for the death of mother and child and a sense of wonder at having had the opportunity to see the closeness, the physical connection between the two.

It is ironic that BodyWorlds2 has found it’s current home in the USA where no national health insurance is available. Perhaps that means that enthusiastic museum viewers believe the best insurance is knowing how one’s body works and what one must do in order to remain as healthful as possible.

Australians of all ages will find this exhibition to be not only worth the small cost (currently $12.50 – $16.75 American) entrance fee, but also a celebration of what it means to be human.


References

BodyWorlds, (Oct 2005).
http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/pages/Pressemeldungen_allgemein.asp#Spiegel

BodyWorlds, (September 2005). http://sln.fi.edu/bodyworlds/plastination.html

Bodyworlds - a review of the notorious 'Corpse Show', (Oct 2005). http://www.culturelist.org/cdr/article.cfm?id=330

Body Zone, Queensland Museum South Bank – Sciencentre, Oct, 2005).
http://www.qmsouthbank.museum.qld.gov.au/sciencentre/exhibits/bodyzone.asp

Friday, October 21, 2005

a note on Internet friends..

A few days ago I posted an address for a site that commented on internet friends. This morning as I signed in to my usual bulletin board on which friends of the last 8 years have posted, I found that one of those friends died on Sunday. Her partner, whom she met on line, took the time to let us all know of her death.

Since I am an old person, the death of friends no longer comes as a shock. I am aware that my 1958 high school graduating class of 360 has been trimmed to 150 folks. Our next reunion will, I am sure, even be a tad smaller. I am no neophyte to this 'loss' process.

But, Lori's death is the first I have experienced of an on-line friend. I am not shocked. I am saddened. I knew that she had a stroke a year ago, but I was operating under the assumption that her improvement was only a matter of time.

I suppose it is very easy to make all kinds of assumptions about the lives of those whom one only knows on-line. This wake up call reminds me that I might wish to pay more attention to those persons who live thousands of miles away but who are available to me on a regular basis on-line.

There is no way I can change the life circumstances of most of those friends, but I can attempt to bring a smile to their computer screen by being a supportive person when we do meet in cyberia.

And so..I wish you each a joyful evening with a supportive family this evening..

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Australian Adventure

Had an adventure yesterday..an adventure into the 'bush' and an adventure into the wilderness within...
Perhaps you recognize the experience. I'm sure it happens to all of us at sometime in our lives. Just as I am sure that it happens to some of us more often than to others.
Here's the scenario:

When your firiend describes her experience and you suddenly realize that it is your experience also…when she uses words that are better than the words you have been able to find to delineate, to symbolize the experience, when her metaphor is so perfectly your own experience; then, my dear, you have found a person with whom you must remain in contact.

My friend lives in a gum tree wilderness of exquisite beauty, full of the grey green forests of central coast Australia, high on a hill above a lovely pastoral valley most of which is still covered with the eucalypt forest. To this pocket of Austrlaian flora and fauna she brings the slightly clipped, very perfectly pronounced British/Scottish/Australian patois that creates a civilised ambiance, a culture that seems almost alien and at the same time quite at home in this amazing bush conclave of out buildings, of fruit trees, bananas, peach, pomegrante and figs surrounding a 'bush' cottage full of warmth and good food.

It is a journey of discovery to drive the yellow/red dirt roads onto the 157 acres of the land held by my friend Theirs is a story of affinity, of love in the gum tree wilderness and in the wilderness of middle age, away from the noise and lights of urban living. To this abode high on the ridge line, protected from the westerlies by the knot of Mt…Goolma rising above their clearning. When he leaves of a morning to go off to work to make the living they must have in order to continue in their solar powered, pond fronded, goldfish decorated space, her heart stings for a moment..racting to the loss of his presence. Is this love? On every level, I think so.

Thank you, dear Scottish/Australian friend for inviting me into the cove of creatures that you call home.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Internet friends

I have included below a web addy of a site on the internet with a peceptive commentary on internet friends. I thought you might enjoy checking it out. It was sent to me by an internet friend who lives in California. POD and I have met on line for the past seven years. We have met in person five or six times. She is one of the most witty, compassionate, intelligent women I have ever known. She is a commediene with perfect timing.

I started chatting on-line in 1996-97 or whenever the first internet chat rooms like Healthy Choice were available to us. It is interesting that I really don't know the year when I began. The web opened up a brave new world that intrigued my quiet evening moments.

I talked with people from Afganistan, Pakistan, Britain, Brazil, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Canada, United States, Mexico, Germany, and finally Australia - the country in which I now reside.

I am currently in contact with several of those folks, which is an interesting commentary on internet communities. We all moved from Healthy Choice to a chat site called C5 and then on to other spots on the web where we could share our sadness and our happiness, the throes of parenthood, and the flirtations of our middle age.

Today, I share my life with a man whom I met on the net. Our relationship is a loving sharing of discovery. We have the rest of our lives to discover what magic we can create in the 'real world'.

The salon.com addy article comments on what happens when we meet our internet friends. I find it to be a rendition of reality that is fairly stated. The web has among other things, created a planetary community, a world without borders that allows like minded folks to share their perceptions of the world with other folks whom, under previous conditions, they would NEVER have met. Isn't some technology grand!!...

http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/tenn/2005/10/12/online_friend/print.html

If you check the article out, stop back and let me know what you think.

Monday, October 10, 2005

the goddess of disaster and Pat Robertson

Have you heard? The evangelical Christian front man, Pat Robertson (yes, he who once ran for the Presidency of the United States) has declared that the recent disasters of firestorm, earthquake, and hurricanes are god's assurance that the second coming is about to commence, that the son of god is about to descend to the planet and take all the good christians away. I'm betting a few Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are wishing the christian god would shorten his lunch break and get on with the rescue mission.

What drivel! What self serving madness! This man could have been President of the United States. And look at him whom we got instead - a man who also thinks he sits at the right hand of the christian god himself..whewy! What a bunch of nut cases.

And these are the fellows who are in charge of funding for scientific research in the planet's most financially affluent cultures. And I say financially afluent, cause at this point it becomes obvious that in no other way is that leadership culture affluent..indeed it is bereft of any spirituality that might cause the peoples of the world to find it charismatic leadership material.

If there is any criticism of the educational system in the USA, it has to be that somehow that system has turned out so many folks who have so little ability to think rationally, to sort out the nonsense and drivel from the meaningful, helpful, and intelligent solutions to the problems of the world. How ever did we manage to graduate so many with so little ability to sort out media hype from truth?

We have been dupped, we amerikans! We have a congress with no ethics and no courage. We have a government so entrenched with the concept of staying in power that no deed is too sordid if it will allow cronies to make big bucks. And furthermore, we have shipped out to the rest of the world our penchant for believing that making money is what makes life worth while.

I hope the cockroaches won't mind being the next great experiment of that godhead just itching to take the christians to heaven and throwing the rest of us in the 'big fire'...I can tell that the old father god has just about bored himself silly with humans anyhow..Maybe the roaches and ants will be more interesting..at least they have a tendency towards community..more than we can say for an awful lot of the political leaders of the USA...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Hard thing is to get slowed down

Saturday morning! I can hear the neighbors on their veranda having morning coffee/tea..maybe here in Oz. Their voices are soft and involved. You can hear them caring about what each other is saying... I wonder how often the same is true here at our house. We have our brekky on the back veranda most days and always have some sort of discussion in the midst of our oatmeal.

Today I am up early. Last night I crashed early...unlike me, but I was buggered by 9:30 and having difficulty keeping my eyes open. We had been watching TV..always a dopifying experience in the best of times. The detective show we had been watching was a Brit thriller. Not badly done, but I had been up early yesterday and I just wanted my pillow.

But on to the title of today's entry, The hard thing is to get slowed down. Isn't this absoutely the truth. Even in retirement..and I am way into retirement, it is so hard to just slow down the motors of my mind, to let go when the wilderness presents itself.

This past week, G and I traveled to Tasmania, the north west coast, to do a little hiking in the temperate rain forests of Cradle Mountain. My greatest difficulty was slowing down, giving nature a chance to complete her processes, to rain and blow until blue skies once again mixed with cloud cover so that we could walk the byways of this extra ordinary country.

G asked me several times what might be wrong. I had difficulty just allowing my book to entertain me. There was really not much else I could do but wait out the weather. But there was that interior push to make things happen more quickly, to create a scedule that matched the speed with which my mind was moving.

I'm never sure what my rush it. How come I have to move so quickly, make decisions so rapidly. It would seem far more productive to allow the pattern of my days to mirror those of nature herself. There is dawn and there is sunset. There is the Butcher Bird greeting the dawn along with the Kookaburra and then there is the busy fruit bats just after sunset munching on the palm nuts in the front garden. There are amazing moments in between that have nothing to do with my need to accomplish..what? Just what is it that I tend to think I must accomplish. Maybe just completing the day with a smile of satisfaction at the end ought to be enough.