I was expecting to feel a lot of things as I walked into Professor Gunther von Hagens “Bodies” exhibition.
Morbid fascination for sure. Nervous trepidation certainly. A slight revulsion or apprehension, well perhaps.
Amusement however, wasn’t something I had anticipated on.
And yet, the more I stared at the “plastinated” cadavers filling the room, the stronger the morbid hilarity of it all became.
Perhaps it was the poses.
After all, it’s not every day that you get to muse over the intricate sinewy workings of a flayed and skinned cadaver, as it stands in an eternally frozen moment waiting to kick a football, shoot a basketball, or conduct an invisible orchestra.
It seemed so incongruous. Here is a dead person, incapable of action, and yet here I am marvelling at the taughtness of its musculature, at the impossible complexity of the body as it readies itself to perform its task.
The animated dead. How amusing.
For the uninitiated, Professor von Hagens is a curious soul. A bizarre mixture of showman, artist, scientist and eccentric.
A combination of traits that has resulted in his infamous “plastination” process,
a technique that basically involves injecting bodies with a specially developed polymer resin which permanently preserves the flesh.
And the degree of preservation is actually quite remarkable.
Fibrous muscle tissues, plump brains, wiry sinews, solid bones, delicate veins and arteries – all remain perfectly in tact, and retain a “vitality” that would be disconcerting, if it weren’t for the fact that it renders the flesh slightly porcine.
For I must admit that at times that was what I thought as I stared at all this inanimate sinewyness. It was like being in an Italian delicatessen, surrounded by hanging hams and strips of salty prosciutto.
The sheer porky meatiness of it all, made it somehow funny.
Perhaps it’s because us humans have an arrogant habit of imagining ourselves as being somehow more than mortal flesh.
We aggrandise our existence and lend it a uniqueness and spirituality that helps us forget the terrible reality of it all. That allows us to dismiss the fleshy, vulnerability of our existence.
We convince ourselves we are immortal like the Gods.
Then along comes the mad Professor with his pink, flayed monsters and we are forced to accept the brutal truth of the matter.
Here, in all its fleshy glory, is what we really are. Nothing but skin and bone and disease and death.
And faced with such grim reality what else can you do but laugh?