On our spring 2017 Las Vegas trip for Dan's annual conference, I spent an afternoon at Bodies: The Exhibition, at Luxor.
I'm fascinated by plastination (replacing fat and water with plastic to preserve bodies. Yes, real bodies) and I've seen Dr. Gunther Von Hagen's Body World's exhibition three times. I've been working on a short story idea for the last decade that involves plastinaiton, but I can't quite get it in shape. My visit to Bodies: The Exhibition was both for general interest and to see if I could get inspired to return to my story idea.
Out of respect for the body donors, photograph inside the exhibition was strictly prohibited. If you just go to the website, you can see a majority of the images.
Bodies: The Exhibition was far less spectacular than Body Worlds. It was much smaller and less flashy. For example, in Body Worlds they had a full-size horse with rider. In Bodies: The Exhibition, there is a guy on a bicycle. Body Worlds has a guy with his own skin draped over his arm! You get the idea.
Grandeur aside, the basic teaching elements from both exhibitions were still there. It's the smaller organs that are fascinating: with exhibits often taking a healthy organ and showing it alongside a diseased organ. For example, showing a healthy brain, alongside a brain that has been affected by a stroke. Probably the most affecting exhibits, especially being in Sin City, are the diseased liver of an alcoholic and the blackened lungs of a smoker. They even provide an enormous plexi-glass case and a note asking smokers to drop their packets of cigarettes in the case, in efforts to kick the habit. I wonder if there are statistics regarding how impactful these types of exhibits are with regard to pushing visitors to make major lifestyle changes.
I always take an extra moment to look at the gallbladder, since it's amazing to me that stones getting trapped in this tiny organ caused me so much pain. The stones themselves are so small! I had emergency gallbladder surgery in 2006, having the organ removed.
Admittedly, the first time I visited Body Worlds, I felt queasy. The exhibit on the circulatory system really got to me. In the exhibit, they strip away everything to just leave the veins. Animals have so many veins. I felt faint looking at it. The guy holding his own skin also got to me, as did seeing certain identifying markers, like tattoos that are still visible. Or things like hair and nails. It no longer bothers me.
I toured Bodies: The Exhibition on a quiet, weekday afternoon. I was alone during much of the time. To start, there were a bunch of young frat guys and one of the guys vomited. He couldn't take it, so the whole group left. I'm not sure if he was queasy by the exhibits or it was from too much partying. Perhaps he should have stuck around to see the liver! If you're worried that the exhibits might bother you, know that the full bodies are not the first thing that you see. They start out with organs and less extreme exhibits, so that you can work your way up. It's really not greusome though.
This is a great education exhibition for kids. Many years ago, I took my former nephew (first husband's family) to see Body Worlds, when he had just turned thirteen. He was blown away by the experience and it was one of his favorite things that we did on his trip to California. He even got to hold a plastinated heart. It's exciting to see kids get excited about learning. Bodies: The Exhibition and Body Worlds, both provided a unique educational opportunity that's impactful.
I should also note that Bodies: The Exhibition is not without controversy. There are questions about how the cadavers become part of the exhibition and concerns that they might not have been legally or morally obtained. The bodies are from China and other than that, the origins are not verified. They are suspected to have been executed prisoners. Body Worlds has been part of a similar controversy, but creator Von Hagen, as gone to great lengths to assure that the cadavers he uses are obtained legally and with consent. They even tell you how to volunteer your body at the end of their exhibition.
Overall, Body Worlds is the far superior exhibition, however, if you're in Vegas and it's not likely that you'll have a Body Worlds visit your town, then by all means, go see Bodies: The Exhibition. It's an astonishing way of viewing the human body.