Body Worlds: Vital Comes to Faneuil Hall

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Posted December 26, 2013 by Tony McMillen in Downtown Boston
Basketball Player from Body Worlds: Vital at Faneuil Hall

I had a downright delightful time looking at dead bodies all afternoon … oh, did I forget to mention that the Body Worlds: Vital exhibition is currently being shown here in Boston all through December? How silly of me. The exhibit is currently on display on the second floor of Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and you really owe it to yourself to give it a gander. Why? Because, like me, you’ve probably just survived your annual sentencing to family purgatory for the Holidays. And like me, you need a break. You need something that’s entertaining, educational, and thoroughly unlike any other experience you’re likely to have this winter in downtown Boston.

Created by Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the exhibit displays actual human bodies, stripped entirely of their skin, and preserved with a process called Plastination. Body Worlds: Vital features 15 whole human cadavers as well as other displays assembled from over 200 individual human specimens. Some of these skinless cadavers are displayed in varying levels of evisceration, layers carefully disassembled or artfully rearranged in order to give the onlooker a remarkable and otherwise impossible view into how the human organism works. Other bodies are posed in positions of athletic grace or kinetic aplomb to showcase just how the muscles and skeleton contort and reconfigure to serve our needs. There are cadavers frozen in flamenco dance poses, cadavers swinging baseball bats, and even two cadavers playing a heated game of hockey. The bruiser without his epidermis who appears to be winning that match is wearing a Bruins helmet, naturally.

Skinless Man from Body Worlds: Vital at Faneuil Hall

Skinless Man from Body Worlds: Vital at Faneuil Hall. Photo Credit: Paul Stevenson

As horrific as all this might sound, the intent and the actual impact of the exhibit is a far different sensation. My visit filled me with a new sense of wonder and awe at the miracle machines we call our bodies. The miraculous nature of every human body was made especially clear to me by the fact that I witnessed all of this after punishing my body with delicious, but decidedly unhealthy, Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers for the last three days.

Half the fun of the exhibit is seeing the full extent of the human body’s resilience despite our own neglectful and even abusive maintenance. One of my favorite parts about this exhibit is that it educates, and this is coming from a man who proudly flees from nearly all forms of learning. This is particularly true in regard to things that attempt to educate me on the importance of my diet. I get it — everything I love is bad for me — now let me get back to consuming the things that I love. While teaching the same old lesson about how we are what we eat, this exhibit manages to impart it using such dazzling and visceral (at times literally visceral) means that I forgot I was actually being educated and rather enjoyed myself. And it’s not all scare tactic (look at these black smoker’s lungs or dilapidated alcoholic’s liver) kind of stuff there, either.

One of the most effective pieces there actually contained no human body parts. Instead, it relied on photographs taken from around the world which showed families and their weekly groceries placed around them. The photos also show the average weekly price the international families pay for their usual horde of goodies. The photos allow the viewer to draw their own, admittedly possibly wholly erroneous, conclusions about the families’ health and their eating habits. But regardless of the veracity of what the photos can tell us about the health of the families depicted, it does get you thinking about what you eat on a weekly basis and how that can effect your health.

Body Worlds: Vital illuminates how the way we live impacts our bodies. What better way to illustrate this than by utilizing and celebrating the human body itself?

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