The Body as Art, Education and Oddity
It could be argued that there are more pleasant pursuits on a cherry blossom weekend in Washington than looking at a bunch of flayed and dissected human remains preserved in silicone, but Connie Murray would disagree.
The Mechanicsville woman was among the first ticket holders to see “ Bodies . . . the Exhibition,” an exhibit that opened yesterday in Rosslyn and uses 250 preserved human specimens to shed light on the inner workings of the body.
Murray, 39, aspires to be a forensic examiner when she retires from her job at the Census Bureau, so she thought everything about the exhibit was fabulous: the skeletons, the exposed muscles, the cross section of a lung darkened by smoking, even the tumor sprouting hair, teeth and its own eyeball. Fabulous. “ I’m just fascinated by it all,” Murray said. “ We’re in on this whole forensic- type thing. We want to see a real autopsy! So it’s nice to see the visual.”
She was touring the show with friend and co- worker Shawn Paterson, 51.
“ The body, it’s so miraculous.” Paterson said, peering at a figure of a man dissected to show off the lung. “ Look how intricate it is.”
Murray continued, “ So we watch ‘ CSI’ and all those shows . . .”
“ Me, too!” a woman standing nearby chimed in. “ In case I actually have to kill someone.”
Run by Atlanta- based Premier Exhibitions Inc., “ Bodies . . . the Exhibition” has drawn more than 3 million visitors, including in London, Las Vegas and New York, since its inception in 2004, organizers say. It is set to continue for at least six months at the Dome in Arlington, the old Newseum site, and could draw up to 500,000.
It’s one of several traveling anatomy shows that have surfaced in the past decade that attempt to demystify the body using preserved remains. They have drawn crowds — and controversy — all over the world. One, “ Body Worlds,” was the backdrop for a scene in “ Casino Royale,” the latest James Bond movie.
Some people question the ethics of displaying human remains this way.
Roy Glover, the exhibit’s medical adviser and former director of the University of Michigan’s polymer preservation lab, said that the bodies at the Dome exhibit were obtained legally from China. The people died of natural causes and didn’t have a family member to claim them, he said.
The show’s primary goal is to display the bodies respectfully while educating the public, he said.
“ Most people don’t understand a lot of what’s happening inside them,” he said. “ They need practical information to understand how their bodies work and about the impact of disease, which may make them reconsider bad habits like smoking, drugs and alcohol intake.”
“ Bodies . . . the Exhibition” made the news again recently when someone swiped a kidney from the show’s demonstration booth in Seattle. It remained missing for two months until police recovered it with help from an anonymous tipster. (“ It looks fine,” Seattle police Officer Debra Brown said afterward, according to the Oregonian. “ I mean, I don’t know how a plasticized kidney should look. But I don’t think it was used as a softball.”)
Claire Spirtas- Hurst, 6, toured the Rosslyn show yesterday with her mother, Patti Hurst, 40, a lawyer, and pronounced it “ disgusting.”
She wrote a nicer message in the comment book, though:
“ I think It is a little skary. Because all of the bodies are cut apart and without the skin. I learned that you can get lung cancer from smoking. I will not smoke ever in my life!”
After that, she and her mother sailed out the door — all the 600 skeletal muscles and miles of blood vessels in their bodies working together to transport the two of them into the rest of their Satur- day. Lunch was next. Either Chipotle or the Lost Dog Cafe, they hadn’t decided.
Shawn Paterson, 51, of Arlington gets an up-close look at a piece in the bodies exhibit, which opened yesterday at the old Newseum site in Rosslyn.