Graphic exhibit with nothing to hide

Standing in a dimly lit room, surrounded by the dissected remains of humans sounds like something out of a horror movie and the last way you’d want to spend your afternoon. However, Calgary’s Telus World of Science is hosting a world-class exhibit that will make you reconsider that. Body Worlds and the Brain, which opened April 30, is a travelling exhibition that has drawn large crowds around the globe.

Using the revolutionary technique of plastination developed by Gunther von Hagens, the exhibition blends anatomy, physiology and art to elicit a quiet reverence and respect for the human form.

Reminiscent of renaissance illustrations of human anatomy, the full human figures are arranged in highly animated poses, playing soccer or figure skating. Although macabre in nature, the bodies seem to take on a life of their own and become ambassadors for the enigmatic world beneath our skin.

The full figures that made the exhibit famous show mainly muscle and bone with only a few glimpses at the more odd things we are made of. Accompanying the full body specimens are translucent slices, comparisons of healthy and defective organs and some less iconic dissections that delve into the systems of the body.

Each system is revealed to be a bizarre world of its own. From the amorphous greys and pinks of the digestive system, to the mind boggling delicate veins and arteries of the cardiovascular system, Body Worlds shows that something as familiar as our own body can be quite strange and worth exploring.

The Canadian version of exhibit emphasizes the strangest and most compelling of these systems ­– the brain. With its innumerable branches that reach out to every part of our body, the human nervous system is the most complex and intricate to have ever existed. It is the essence of our creativity, emotions, motivations and our personalities.

In addition to the genuine human brains displayed, the exhibit explores this integral system with informative graphics which cover a range of topics including the expression of emotions, Alzheimer’s disease and how the brain grows and shrinks as we age.

“The goal of Body Worlds is not only to educate people about anatomy, but to shorten the distance between the model and yourself,” said Dr. Angelina Whalley, Institute for Plastination managing director and creative and conceptual designer of the Body Worlds exhibitions.

“Body Worlds, by showing authentic specimens, is such a powerful experience that you don’t have to tell people, ‘Care for your body, look out for this or that,’ ” explained Dr. Whalley. “When you look at people’s reactions you feel that they are totally in awe. Therefore most of the people leaving the exhibition say, ‘I have a completely different view of myself. I’ll never take my body for granted any more.’ “

A licensed physician, Dr. Whalley sees the emotional response that the exhibit invokes in many people as an invaluable tool in promoting general public health.

Moreover, the exhibit reflects a stylistic shift in the programming of the Telus World of Science. The science centre is planning to hold evening presentations by speakers and engage patrons in thought-provoking discussions.

It is clear that the Telus World of Science sees the Body Worlds exhibit as an opportunity to demonstrate the changing role of the science centre into truly all ages forum for inquiry.

“It’s very different from the rainy day, ‘What am I doing with the four year old?’ ” said Martin, “We’re trying, through these evening events, to connect some of the dots. There’s a lot of information out there and sometimes people need a bit of an arbitor to help them and we’ll be available to do that, but it’s really not us as experts, it’s us connecting them.”

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