Corpses Visit Kentucky Science Center in New Exhibit ‘Body Worlds Vital’

You walk into a dark room in the Kentucky Science Center and behind glass, bright lights show off the inner workings of the human body. Bones and muscle are ripped, cut and stretch to artistically show how we work.

“If you want to appeal lay people who come with hesitation, who may have never seen a corpse before, they need to be looking beautiful,” said Angelina Whalley, the creative designer for the new exhibit called Body Worlds Vital.

It might leave you squeamish or fascinated depending on how you feel about cadavers, but the bodies are a work of art created by Whalley’s husband Gunther von Hagens who invented the plastination technology that’s used to preserve the bodies.

Plastination exchanges tissue water and fat with a substance that creates a rubber-like finish allowing the artists to pose bodies in ways they wish.

Walking around the exhibit you notice several of the bodies are in the process of performing an action, such as fencing, dancing and singing. Many lack skin or have muscles peeled away showing the consistency of the makings of the human body.

“The vase majority say it’s completely different from what they had expected. It’s so beautiful. It’s so educational. They’re also thankful that they had this opportunity to see themselves without a mirror in a complete different way,” Whalley said.

Kentucky Science Center director Joanna Haas says she hopes this exhibit brings attention to the importance of health and said the exhibition should be a catalyst for conversation about the way we live our lives.

“This is really the preeminent of all of the anatomical exhibitions that are traveling in the United States and really around the globe,” she said.

By Whalley’s count there are nearly 20 “copy-cat” exhibits that tour the world and some—like the exhibit that came to the Mellwood Arts Center in 2009—have raised controversy regarding where they received the bodies.

But Haas says all of the specimens that are included at the Kentucky Science Center “are expressly willed for the purpose of education and in the case of all of the full body specimens expressly for the purpose of display within these e exhibitions touring around the world.”

Whally says their body donation program was set up in 1983 and most cadavers come from Germany. There are currently more than 13,000 volunteers to become plastinated through their program and around 10 percent of volunteers are from the United States.

“The exhibition is relevant for many, many different constituent groups,” says Haas.

The center has already sold 2,500 student tickets and staff and students from the exhibit’s main sponsor, Spalding University, will be at the exhibit to help educate the public during its duration.

The exhibit runs through May 19. 

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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