Sydney is currently hosting the Real Bodies: The Exhibition from now until the end of October. Real Bodies is creating something we truly have not seen before, offering patrons several different galleries with subject matters such as breathing, moving, love and death. If you’ve ever wondered the complexities of a relationship between art and science, this showcase is for you.
The exhibition explores all aspects of the human form through the visualisation of art. It reveals deep synergy between breathing, hunger, the rhythm of the heart, love, motion, thought and medicine that makes each person unique. It includes 20 real and perfectly preserved human bodies and over 200 anatomical specimens. The exhibition aims to educate its visitors on the science of the human body, but it also teaches its visitors on what it means to be a human and alive.
The exhibition by US based touring company Imagine Exhibitions have also toured similar exhibitions using real cadavers, as well as entertainment exhibitions such as Jurassic World and Titanic. Their use of live cadavers has raised questions over the ethical use of human corpses, sourced from China’s Dalian Medical University.
As with similar shows held around the world, some groups such as Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting have expressed concerns the bodies may have belonged to people from persecuted Chinese minorities, including members of the Falun Gong.
However, Imagine Exhibitions CEO and president Tom Zaller said there is “absolutely no basis” for such claims.
“It’s a completely ridiculous accusation,” Zaller told AAP.
Zaller also said the bodies were provided by partner Dr Hongjin Sui, who has 25 years experience in plastination. Zaller has denied any foul play, stating that the bodies were legally donated.
“This person did not know he would be here. We’ve never claimed that he would know he would be here,” Zaller said, gesturing to a nearby body. “Just as if you went to the museum and saw the King Tut exhibition, or a mummy exhibition. Those mummies on display, they didn’t know they were going to be on display.”
Zaller has been involved in similar exhibitions for more than a decade and explains their educational benefits were clear.
“What I know now is that because I have displayed these specimens around the world children have become doctors, and that is powerful to me,” he told the AAP.
Real Bodies has the backing of Australasian Institute of Anatomical Sciences president, Gavin Burland.
“An opportunity to come and view the real body and understand the complexity – even I’m in awe, I’ve been in the industry for 15 years, “he told AAP.
Burland said he was comfortable with the ethics of such exhibitions.
“These bodies would have otherwise been a wasted resource from a scientific perspective.”
In a statement promoting the exhibition, Burland said the show is a great educational experience.
“These plastinates provide a unique view into the human body that is normally reserved to the medical field,” he said. “The public will be able to explore and interact with these displays to better understand what’s inside that makes us function as people.”
Burland is a scientific advisor to the exhibition and he has 15 years experience working with human and animal bodies in New Zealand and Australia. Though he wasn’t personally involved in the embalming or plastination process for this exhibition, he explains that “plastination is a process of removing all the fat and water out of the tissue and replacing it with a plastic polymer, whether that’s a silicone, polyester resins or epoxy resins, which people might associate with fibreglass or jewellery making.”
The process was developed in the late 70’s and it’s been commercially available for universities since the mid 80’s. Though medical students may have access to similar specimens, the volume and skill used to preserve the bodies in this exhibition is extraordinary.
“They do come at considerable cost. I think the whole body dissections are absolutely stunning. The hours of work, the skill required to produce them… it could be in excess of 500 hours just to do the dissection process, and that’s probably with three people working on it.”
The procedures that have taken place to bring about this exhibtion are incredible. It’s a truly unique experience. If you’re looking to satisfy your curious minds on the human body, Real Bodies: The Exhibition is currently showing at Sydney’s Byron Kennedy Hall.