Körperwelten IV – the art of the human body

On Saturday we went to Brussels to the Cellars of Cureghem to see Körperwelten 4, a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts. Körperwelten is German for “Body Worlds” and it’s the child of German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of a technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination.

The exhibition features more than 200 human specimens, there are quite a lot of full body plastinates and even an entire body that was sliced and displayed spread-out so you can closely examine what a human is made of. Everything you see at the exhibition comes from real people who, according to von Hagens, willingly donated their bodies for plastination via a body donation programme. Here’s the description of the show:

In KÖRPERWELTEN 4, the exquisite form and physiology of the human body is illuminated by more than 200 new authentic human specimens that show the latest advances in plastination and dissection technology. The exhibit features original plastinates, never before seen in Brussels, including individual organs, transparent body slices, and whole bodies, transformed through the revolutionary preservation process.. See the body in disease, distress, and optimal health by comparing smokers and non-smokers lungs, healthy and cirrhosis liver, dysfunctional and robust hearts, optimal and over weight bodies.

It may sound a bit disgusting or lugubrious but Körperwelten is quite interesting as it gives regular people the opportunity to see what’s inside their body and it allows you to see the effects of diseases or bad habits, such as smoking, with your own eyes. The location of the show is also a pro IMO, the Cellars of Cureghem is a nice underground cellar dating from the late 19th century, which is decorated by hundreds of pillars and vaults.

Some people are concerned Körperwelten might be too gory for them but I didn’t have that feeling, the bodies and organs didn’t look gross at all and they did not have a weird odour. It’s a combination of art and science – we’ve all seen pictures and drawings of our internals in textbooks at school but to see real, plastinated, organs and bodies right in front of your eyes is a whole different and fascinating experience. The show also featured the plastinated body of a western lowland gorilla, it was pretty amazing to see how large the organs of the gorilla are in comparison to the human body.

If you’re interested in learning more about the human body I strongly suggest you visit Body Worlds if you get the opportunity to do so. You’re not allowed to take photos of the exhibition but you can find some interesting shots at their website.

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