Last Saturday I took the train to Brussels to meet up with a friend from university, and we went to see an exhibition called Real Bodies. It is an exhibition which I think has toured much of the world, and it consists of bodies and body parts which have been preserved by removing all the water and fats from the body and replacing them with acetone and silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin. The bodies were dissected so be warned: there is a graphic photograph coming up.
It was a very cold, dark day and there was a light dusting of snow everywhere. This is Tour en Taxis, an area of Brussels that has been fairly recently renovated and where the exhibition was displayed. The building on the right used to be a post office sorting house.
The exhibition was in the basement, which added a layer of gloom to the proceedings, and it was the strangest exhibition I have ever seen. On the one hand, it was an absolutely fascinating lesson in anatomy, and I could not but marvel at the human body, so complex and so beautifully constructed. On the other, it was deeply unsettling and made me feel faintly nauseous. These had been real people; admittedly they had donated their bodies to science* but it did resemble an artistically arranged butcher’s shop. The method of preservation gave everything a waxy appearance which I found quite repellent. The bodies were posed – playing football, running – to show different sets of muscles in tension but I also felt uncomfortable about that, as if it were disrespectful, although of course the owners of the bodies probably didn’t mind about that any more. Oddly enough I did not consciously think about my own mortality but perhaps this was at the back of my mind and therefore contributing to my unease. A disturbing experience.
Has anyone else seen this (I believe that an earlier version of it was simply called Bodies)? What did you think?
* So I believed when we went but I have subsequently discovered that there is some controversy over this which is making me feel even more ambivalent.