Published  26/06/2001

Silence of the Limbs

Körperwelten Exhibition, Berlin through 2 September, Brussels from 22 September

This is an extraordinary exhibition, genre-related to this year's Body Spectacular exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery, where anatomical models were assembled with ghoulish rationality. This new exhibition, currently in Berlin, is the creation of a contemporary Hannibal Lecter (of Silence of the Lambs movie fame), Professor Gunther von Hagens (who lives, not in Transylvania, but at his own institute in Dalian, China). He has painstakingly developed a method of preserving the infrastructure of corpses at the Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg: formaldehyde is used to preserve the specimens – donated corpses – first frozen, then thawed, and later dissected. All body fluids are then removed and replaced with coloured, plastic 'infrastructural elements'. This gives a degree of bendability to the specimens which, with pre-planning, gives the body a chosen pose. Here, 20th century technology has advanced the 'Body Spectacular'in repose, more real than ever. Bodies are provided through 'donation', about which an inevitable, Burke-and-Hare sense of anonymity prevails. van Hagens claims to reveal the mysteries of the body for general enlightenment with a thoroughness not evident since the first Renaissance dissections and sketches. But, is it art?

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