What They're Saying
The Science Center believes community discourse is a valuable component of hosting BODIES. On June 21, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a front-page story reporting on the debate surrounding the exhibition's October 8 arrival in Pittsburgh. Within 48 hours of the story going live online, more than 50 people responded to a reader's forum. The forum is available in its entirety online at post-gazette.com. Below is a small sample of opinions gleaned from the online source.
Nancy L. Holub, Upper St. Clair:
I saw the same exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry as the Carnegie advisory committee, and cannot agree more with their decision to bring this extraordinary exhibit to Pittsburgh. I am anxious to see it again—this time to share with my elementary-aged grandchildren.
To see the skill, respect and care with which these bodies are presented, and the atmosphere engendered, would quickly dissipate most dissenters' objections. The human body is beautiful and breathtaking in its intricacies, and the unbelievable skill displayed in showing that to us is an enriching and educational experience. Those attending were hushed, respectful and completely absorbed.
I spent three hours at the exhibit—and left with a sense of awe.
Tanya Price, Pittsburgh:
I disagree with the Bodies exhibition. It is one thing for someone to give their body over to science upon death but these people were never identified, nobody knows the cause of death, no relatives were found, and more importantly, there is no record of these people authorizing their bodies to be used in this way. I think it is very disrespectful. What is wrong with our world?? Where are the morals and the respect for human life or death even?
John Van Ness, Hudson, Florida:
We went to this exhibit when it was at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry—there was a great deal of controversy regarding this exhibit prior to its opening. My wife and I were both very impressed with the exhibit and we were glad that we had the opportunity to attend. We found the exhibit to be very educational and it left us in a state of amazement with respect to the intricacies of the human body. One couldn't help but notice how quiet everyone was while they were moving about the exhibit. We thought everything was done in a very respectful manner.
Katie Hogan, Park Place:
I am writing to thank reporter Sally Kalson for including the critical perspectives of Elaine Catz and Harry Wu in her June 21 article on "Bodies ... The Exhibition," the program scheduled to open at The Carnegie Science Center in October 2007. If the Science Center is genuinely committed to education perhaps it will include points of views such as Catz's and Wu's as part of this exhibit. Earlier this year The Andy Warhol Museum presented "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race." Perhaps members of The Carnegie Science Center would consider consulting with the organizers of "Deadly Medicine" in an effort to insure that the exhibit acknowledges the ways in which science and medicine have been used to dehumanize human beings.
Nick Baich, Elizabeth:
The exhibit takes away any reverence for the dead. It's macabre and not a true expression of art. One has to think about who these people once were. If you put it into perspective, they were someone's child, someone's uncle or aunt. They once felt all the emotions we feel now. They once laughed at a joke, cried out in despair or prayed in fear to whatever deity they believed in. And now in death, they are put on display as an oddity, a sideshow for the sake of a buck. What a sad statement for humanity.
I think this exhibit is not for everyone, but i cant wait to see it. i have read about the plastination in berlin a few years ago. i am glad to see that pittsburgh isn’t afraid to have cutting edge art exhibits displayed in our city.
A rare glimpse of the inner workings of the human body—a privilege once reserved for only those studying medicine—is expected to draw big crowds to Carnegie Science Center and get us all thinking about these mysterious, fantastic bodies of ours.
Like your Mom always said: It’s what’s on the inside that really matters. And, perhaps unknowingly, she provided some of the best advice about the body and how to keep it healthy. Still, far too many know far too little about the one thing we all have in common: our insides.
Fortunately, Carnegie Science Center is about to change all that by telling—and showing—the naked truth about the human body.
In hosting BODIES … The Exhibition, which opens October 8 and runs through May 4, 2008, the Science Center will provide some of the most practical and useful lessons for anybody (that is, anyone with a body).
Far from what you remember of junior high school health class, BODIES features 15 real preserved human bodies and more than 200 additional organs and partial specimens. The idea is simple: If people better understand their bodies, they’ll better understand how to care for them. And in a society filled with an overweight, overmedicated, and sleep-starved majority, it seems the best medicine could be a healthy dose of body education.
“As an educational experience, it has more impact than any other exhibit I’ve seen or been a part of,” says Ron Baillie, chief program officer of Carnegie Science Center, who has worked in science education for 24 years. “There’s just nothing quite like it.”
Nothin’ Like the Real Thing
The exhibition is organized into galleries by the human body’s internal systems, each with its own precise role in how the body functions. The first gallery provides a comfortable start—the human skeleton. Even most grade-schoolers have come face-to-face with a plastic skeleton, and the real deal doesn’t look all that much different.
Until, of course, it’s locking fingers with another version of itself—with added muscles—to illustrate the important relationship between the body’s framework and the cartilage and muscles attached to those bones. (The body has more than 600 skeletal muscles that give it shape and contribute to its weight).
Another body is posed walking and captured mid-stride; another is mid-air kicking a soccer ball to show what the body’s four layers of muscles look like in action. And from there the exhibition literally builds—and dissects the body simultaneously—as visitors slowly make their way through each remaining system: nervous, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, and urinary. There are no restrictive barriers around most specimens, allowing an unprecedented, 360 degree, in-your-face examination of what life literally looks like under the skin.
“Wow! Who knew, as one of my daughters put it,” visitor Sue Dalson scribbled into a comment book at the end of the exhibition currently on view in Rossyln, Va., just outside the nation’s capital. “This was an incredibly empowering experience. We were able to learn about our bodies as a family and talk about how caring for them is important. This is better than any textbook we could ever share with them.”
That’s exactly the point of the exhibition, says Roy Glover, M.D., professor emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Michigan and chief medical director for BODIES.
“Using real bodies is the best way to explain to people and impress upon them how beautiful their own body is, how complex it is, and how important it is that they take care of it. The body never lies, and this is the best way to demonstrate that.”
Perhaps the most sobering part of BODIES is what it shows us about disease. Various body parts (displayed inside the body and separately in display cases) show the ravages of certain disease—one woman’s healthy breast resting beside another’s crippled by cancer—and the consequences of poor lifestyle choices—the blackened, shrunken lungs of a smoker near pale healthy lungs.
In the circulatory section—which is among the most striking—a body is reduced to its blood vessels, a fantastic network of crimson tubes and filaments (all 60,000 miles of them), extraordinary in its intricacy. In the digestive section, the body of an overweight man—sliced vertically into three pieces—shows how and where the body stores fat.
“You hear and see all kinds of informative interactions as people are experiencing the exhibition,” say Jo Haas, the Henry Buhl, Jr. director of Carnegie Science Center. “Whether it’s somebody talking about having had a heart surgery and sharing it with a grandchild or a child sitting on the floor studying his foot next to the foot of one of the specimens. It’s a pretty profound experience.”
George Michalopoulos, M.D., chair of the department of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is another strong advocate.
“Personally, I am thrilled to see the exhibit come here,” says Michalopoulos, who serves on an advisory committee established by the Science Center nearly two years ago when it first considered hosting the exhibition. “My role primarily was to help determine if it is worth the educational value to bring this exhibit to Pittsburgh. I fully believe it is, for the public to see truly how we are, and the beauty inside the body.
“Many of our faculty will help frame the exhibition, some participating as guides, others presenting lectures on topics that can only deepen the experience.”
In the Interest of Health
Produced by Premier Exhibitions, Inc. of Atlanta, BODIES is double the size of any other traveling exhibit ever hosted by the Science Center. It will cover 12,000 square-feet in the building that hosts SportsWorks® and will open first for two special Members-Only Access Days October 5-6.
“Information about our bodies is absolutely everywhere—on the morning talk show and in the daily newspaper,” notes Glover, an anatomist and educator for 35 years. “Yet we don’t always understand that information and we don’t know how to use it. This show is an attempt to bridge that gap, to make all the information available a lot more understandable to the average person.”
The idea of using real human bodies for educational purposes is of course not new—the use of cadavers for study in medical schools dates back centuries. But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that German chemist Gunther von Hagens pioneered the technique of plastination, the process of taking organic tissue and replacing the water in it with a liquid silicon polymer to preserve bodies in a dry, odorless state. In 1996, he opened Body Worlds, the first public exhibit to put preserved cadavers on display, which was widely criticized for focusing on the body as art and show—such as a man carrying his own skin —and for allegations that he used the bodies of executed Chinese and Kyrgyzstan prisoners.
With a focus on education, BODIES is billed as the clinical response to van Hagens’ work and is one of his exhibit’s two chief competitors. His former Chinese partner, anatomist Sui Hongjin, oversees the preparation of bodies for Premier from a plastination lab at Dalian Medical University in northern China.
“We work in Asia because the best anatomic dissectors in the world live and work there,” explains Glover, noting that Premier paid the medical school $25 million for the right to use the bodies. “We spent a significant amount of time looking for just the right partner.”
Glover says Premier requests certain body types showing various degrees of fitness, and those of smokers and people who had suffered from prostate cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and breast cancer—diseases for which patients can be screened in regular checkups.
Despite its advantages, whole plastinated bodies are unlikely to replace embalmed cadavers in medical school gross anatomy labs in the United States or elsewhere, although some body parts are used. The plastic makes the body too stiff, making it impossible for medical students to do dissections. Not to mention the prep time that’s involved—a whopping 3,000 to 5,000 hours per body.
Surprisingly, the body’s skin—its largest and heaviest organ—preserves just as well as any other organ. Displayed flatly in two pieces in BODIES—the front and back of the body—the skin specimen measures 22 square-feet, weighs a surprising 11 pounds, and resembles the weathered protective jacket it once was when it acted as a body’s sensory receptor and prevented dehydration.
“It’s definitely one of the specimens that people talk a lot about,” notes Glover. “Our skin is part of our humanness, our individualism, and we need to be more aware of it as an important organ. For physicians, it’s very important in terms of diagnosing without having to perform a lot of invasive procedures.”
A Strategic Decision
Bringing BODIES to Carnegie Science Center is about connecting the prominence of the city’s world-class medical community to the enthusiasm Pittsburghers and others in the region have for sports, says Haas.
“It’s part of our larger strategic plan for energizing our visitor experience over the next six years,” Haas explains, pointing to the success of the Science Center’s SportsWorks® facility and the Science Center’s track record in health science exhibits, including its popular ZAP! Surgery exhibit. “There’s a keen interest in the BODIES exhibit everywhere it’s been—and we’re embracing a phenomenon in the world of education that perfectly intersects with our strategic plan to add more health-related experiences for visitors.”
But the exhibition that has drawn more than four million visitors worldwide and has the potential to lure some 300,000 to the Science Center over eight months is not without controversy. Locally, it’s already sparked lively debate about important issues of life and death and health and wellness. And that’s exactly the kind of dialogue the Science Center welcomes.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been very up front about,” says Haas. “Part of why Carnegie Museums exists is to cultivate these kinds of community discussions to help people explore their world and the world at large and to perhaps come up close to some things that are not always comfortable. Exploring, testing boundaries, discovering things about the world around you and then coming to new places of understanding, that’s really an important part of this exhibition.
“We recognize that there are a wide variety of perspectives about this exhibition,” continues Haas. “And while, from an educational standpoint, we believe this is a very powerful experience and one that should not be missed, we respect the fact that not everyone will hold that opinion.”
Outraging some, including one part-time employee of the Science Center who chose to resign this past June, is the fact that the bodies on display were all unclaimed Chinese citizens.
Glover explains that, because the bodies were unidentified or were not claimed by relatives, they were donated to Dalian Medical University by the government, which is not unlike the U.S. practice of using unclaimed bodies for study in American medical schools. In Pennsylvania, about 3 percent of the 600-700 bodies donated to the state’s 10 medical schools each year are unclaimed, according to the Humanity Gifts Registry of Pennsylvania, which coordinates this statewide effort.
Critics fear that because China has a long history of human rights violations, there’s no guarantee the bodies were obtained legally, and that this kind of exhibition is fueling an underground industry of body preservation in China.
“Our company spent two years vetting the acquisition process and we’re sure that all those used for display died of natural causes, including disease,” Glover says. “As an anatomist for 35 years, I would not be involved with something unethical. And for Premier, it would be suicide as a company to use bodies that were illegally obtained.”
The five-member advisory committee convened by the Science Center to explore all aspects of the exhibition, including any ethical and religious concerns, unanimously recommended it host the exhibition.
“After seeing the exhibition, we were all of the same mind: that it’s so educational and so important in terms of health, that it makes a great deal of sense to host it in Pittsburgh,” says Peter Madsen, advisory member and executive director for the advancement of applied ethics at Carnegie Mellon University. “The city has the medical expertise and the Science Center has the educational expertise to truly put it in context.
“There were a number of pressing issues we needed to consider and several of them were ethical,” continues Madsen. “Dalian Medical University is governed by the World Health Organization and we believe we can trust these medical professionals.”
Last summer, four of the five committee members traveled to Tampa together to view the exhibition at the Museum of Science & Industry, where its stay was extended twice, and it drew 620,000 visitors over 13 months. The group also closely followed reactions of communities around the world where the exhibition had appeared. In Pittsburgh, committee members met with minority and religious community groups to educate them about the exhibit and receive their input in advance.
“Over nearly two years, this group has really helped us identify key issues and engage a wide variety of community leaders prior to the exhibition’s arrival,” notes Haas.
No Better Place For It
This past April, the Science Center hosted an open house for about 40 local educators to introduce them to the exhibit and to provide an opportunity for them to ask questions. Within a few weeks, 1,000 school children were registered.
“Kids have a really pure sense of wonder,” says Cheryl Mure, educational director for Premier’s BODIES. “They see themselves through the exhibit immediately and relate to everything right away. Older students see the exhibit as their classroom studies coming alive in front of them. And so many teachers come back again and again with different groups of students each time.”
Two things make the arrival of BODIES in Pittsburgh unique compared to its run in other cities: plenty of advance planning, and a hosting organization that itself is all about science education. By the October 8 opening, the Science Center will have had eight months to prepare—about triple the time the museum in Tampa had—and an impressive slate of supplemental programming is the result. On tap is a related public lecture series, a forum addressing body image, a health and wellness fair, and, in a workshop designed for families, children can dissect a frog and a worm to learn how their bodies set them in motion. But perhaps most ingenious is the programming designed for schools. This is the other great advantage for Pittsburgh—BODIES provides a remarkable opportunity for the Science Center to do what it does best: bring science alive.
Students will have the opportunity to pick the brains of local experts in the fields of neuroscience, forensics, and cardiology. They’ll also be able to participate in anatomist-led tours, including a 40-minute anatomy workshop and an introductory anatomy class for college credit. Premier and the Science Center will even provide online curriculum guides that meet Pennsylvania teaching standards. Described as “massive” by Science Center educator Ron Baillie, the 100-page, downloadable tool provides lessons and exercises to prepare students for what they’ll see before they arrive and includes follow-up material so they can discuss in more detail what they experience onsite.
“This is about inspiring people to see and care for their bodies in new and healthier ways,” says Haas. “But it’s also about inspiring the next generation of people who will be nurses, doctors, technicians, practitioners of all kinds. Not all of them may be wielding the scalpels, but this is for all those concerned about health and the human condition.”
Reserve Your Ticket Today
Member-Only Access Days: October 5-6, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Beginning October 8, open to the public, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days
Members receive a 35 percent discount off admission:
Adult Members, $14; Child Member (ages 3-12), $10
Tickets, reserved by date and time, can be purchased in advance by phone at 412.237.3400.
Carnegie Science Center is offering a special experience for those interested in diving deeper into BODIES. Each Wednesday evening, visitors can participate in a 40-minute anatomy workshop prior to seeing the exhibition. They are then guided through the exhibit with the instructor, returning after the exhibit for a 20-minute discussion and Q/A session. Cost is $15 in addition to the BODIES ticket. By reservation only!
The Human Body Exposed!
In conjunction with BODIES … The Exhibition, the Science Center is hosting a public speaker series led by local health experts. The Saturday programs will feature real instruments and video of actual medical procedures when possible. The lectures are free with admission to Carnegie Science Center or as a $5 add-on to BODIES. All presentations begin at 1 p.m.
Oct. 27: Non-invasive Medicine—A look at instruments and
procedures that can be done laproscopically
Nov. 17: Neuroscience—What are the latest advances in brain surgery?
At Carnegie Museums, the study of the body is more than just a head-to-toe examination.
The Body: From Head to Toe to Tattoo
While Carnegie Science Center is educating visitors about the health and wellness of their bodies this fall, Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be discussing evolution and comparative anatomy—and how it relates to the curing of disease. Next door at Carnegie Museum of Art, drawing students will be perched in a studio studying the curves of a human model. And The Warhol will pose the question, Why has the body never been enough?
Specifically in response to BODIES, The Warhol’s Body/Booty exhibition, opening October 20, will look at the reasons why people have always felt the need to ornament the body—through dress, paint, tattoos, makeup, piercings, and even scent.
“If the body is so alluring, if the naked body is something that can create sin, then why is it that throughout history we have done so much to make up and change our
bodies in ways that supposedly make it more beautiful? So if you don’t have the biggest bust line, you get it through surgery,” says Tom Sokolowski, director of The Warhol.
To help explore this question, the exhibition will include work by Andy Warhol that focuses on the prolongation of beauty—say, a 90-year-old Latin American heiress with a facelift—next to a photograph of Dolly Parton peeled off the Internet and hung next to a real push-up bra and a display of bottles filled with pheromones. A number of speakers will also address the body from different perspectives—that of a tattoo artist and a transsexual, for instance—and touch on issues related to body image, including how the idea of what’s beautiful changes with time.
“BODIES provides a lot of potential for education about the physical body and one’s health, that’s obvious,” adds Sokolowski. “But each of the museums has something valuable to offer to further contextualize the topic.”