Display of preserved human bodies opens tomorrow


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One of the most unusual exhibits ever to come to Salt Lake City is attracting descriptions like "awesome" and "amazing." The worldwide tour of a display of the human body opens here tomorrow.

You've never experienced anatomy quite like this. You see neurons firing in the brain, blood flowing in arteries clogged with plaque and the electrical circuitry of the heart. But the real show is real bodies in full and in part, preserved by a process called plastination.

Again, the bodies on display are not models or wax figures, they're real human bodies, cadavers. If you took the skin off your body, this is the way it would really look.

Dr. Angelina Whalley, the conceptual designer of Body Worlds, said, "It is the real specimen, the authenticity that evokes awe and evokes appreciation."

Muscles, arteries, veins, nerves, organs, bones, tendons and more, all intact and visible in a way that for most visitors is neither grotesque nor irreverent. It could be, but Whalley says Body Worlds seeks a higher plane, sort of putting life into death to enlighten and teach.

"A model is a model, and one is like another. But a human body is very unique, also the insides, so you could never show this uniqueness of each individual body," she said.

The bodies appear to be in motion. There are athletes and dancers showing everything from the delicate web of vessels and capillaries to the full nervous system.

The plastination process replaces tissue water and fat with a reactive polymer that soaks into every cell. It remains elastic while the bodies are posed then cured and hardened to last forever.

"It feels like plastic, although it doesn't look like plastic. And they will certainly last longer than the old pharaohs," Whalley said.

Though some have questioned, Body Worlds provides documentation that all bodies have been donated. In total they now have 8,600 on file.

Reactions to the exhibits vary. It's always in the eye of the beholder. Some walk away seeking a healthier life. Others see something inside of them that is now beautiful, fragile, yet potentially strong. "Some are even thinking they had a spiritual experience," Whalley said.

The exhibit opens tomorrow at The Leonardo on Salt Lake's Library Square.

E-mail: eyeates@ksl.com

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Ed Yeates

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