04 September 2007

Life is Fragile

Are we all familiar with the "Bodies" exhibit? Do you need a quick refresher?

It's a controversial exhibition showcasing preserved human bodies dissected to display bodily systems.

The museum is set up so that one starts at the skeletal system, and more layers (muscular, nervous, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems; as well as fetal development and the treated body) are added in successive rooms.

Containing about twenty bodies in total, each exhibition uses real human bodies that have been preserved permanently by a process called "polymer preservation" so that they will not decay.

The cadavers were donated for research by the Chinese government, because all the bodies at the time of death allegedly had no close next of kin or immediate families to claim the bodies.

All of the dissections took place at the Dalian University in Liaoning, China and the resulting specimens were leased to Premier Exhibitions for the five-year duration of the show.

Some of the specimens are arranged so that they are performing activities such as playing basketball or conducting an orchestra. Along the way are other displays showing a human intestine stretched out, the polluted lung of a smoker, and all of the arteries and veins without the body itself.

The question of the orgins of the bodies continue to dog these exhibits. Reporting from Dalian, China for the NYTimes, David Barboza described "a ghastly new underground mini-industry" with "little government oversight, an abundance of cheap medical school labor and easy access to cadavers and organs."

Due to the fact that the cadavers featured in the exhibition are Chinese in origin, critics suspect that some or all of the bodies may be those of Chinese political prisoners or Falun Gong practitioners, who may have been subject to arrest and execution without due process, in order to be sold as cadavers.

These critics cite previous accounts of Organ harvesting in China and the questionable state of Human Rights in the People's Republic of China.

I visited the exhibit a few months ago and it was insane. I really have no better word for it. I too was left wondering how and where the cadavers came from.

Regardless, that isn't the point of this particular entry.

My route home everyday takes me by the South Street Seaport, which is where the NYC installment of the exhibit has been held for a while at 207 Front Street.

Last week as we passed by, I noticed a gaggle of Asian businessmen chain-smoking on a roof garden above the exhibit. They were all fairly slight, fairly young, dressed in suits and the like, talking, smiling... living.

It looked as if they had all stepped out of a party for a smoke and to get some air.

But what I found creepy was that I knew down below in the exhibit were all men, just like them; preserved and dissected; the same size, the same build. It was like a flash from a horror movie. I saw them, clothed, smoking, talking, laughing, dressed in suits and then I saw them as a skeletal system, their muscles preserved permanently by "polymer preservation"; I saw their circulatory, digestive, respiratory systems. It was bizarre. Like I had X-ray vision.

I went with my friend Double R once to watch her do a few autopsies and as I've said before, I left that day absolutely believing in miracles - not of the biblical kind, but of the scientific kind.

The mere fact that the human body operates for 1 second let alone 70 or 80 years is simply astounding. It's all so insanely intricate and so fucking fragile. I often wondered how Double R could ever look at people the same way when she knew so well what lurked right under their skin.

And that's exactly how I felt when I saw those dudes smoking on the roof. Like I knew what was inside. Like I knew how they'd end up.

Then I thought maybe I was the only one seeing these men smoking on the roof. Could it have been the clothed souls of the cadavers downstairs in the exhibit?

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