Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ skinless Plastinated cadavers have been traveling the world since 1995. Now Salt Lake City has its turn to host Body Worlds 3 & the Story of the Heart at The Leonardo (TheLeonardo.org), 209 E. 500 South, beginning Sept. 19. The Leonardo’s Lisa Davis discusses the display:
You’ve seen the exhibit? What’s your personal highlight?
Definitely the smoker and nonsmoker lungs. The comparison is astounding and has even inspired members of the Leo staff to quit smoking. Anyone who smokes after seeing this exhibit needs therapy.
The idea that we are looking at skinless naked corpses. Seems morbid, don’t you think?
Body Worlds is a human-anatomy exhibition. When people come to the exhibition, they are enlightened and inspired—after all, we all look this way on the inside.
Where did the bodies come from?
The specimens on display stem from the Institute for Plastination’s body-donation program. There are over 8,000 donors to the program, the majority of the donors are German, however, 800 are from the U.S. Who knows, there may even be some body donors from Utah.
Were people aware their remains would be traveling the world? And did they know how their bodies would be posed?
Yes. Many donors do request to have their body posed performing an activity or sport that they enjoyed during their life, however, they also know it may not be possible to carry out their request. Personally, I’d request a Karl Malone dunking pose.
Do they or their heirs receive any compensation?
No, donors are just that and are not paid. And there’s no commission for referrals either, so don’t even think about it.
Are museum-goers told who the person was and how they died?
No, the donor agreement requires confidentiality.
Several other states have rules and regulations regarding the commercial display of human remains. Does Utah have any laws or regulations?
Actually, Body Worlds has supported pending legislation in other states and would be happy to support legislation in Utah.
Have you ever met the man behind the display, Dr. Gunther von Hagens? Is he a mad scientist or more of a passionate medical professional on a crusade to inform people about their bodies?
Yes, I’ve met him, and he’s definitely the latter. As a side note, I have an autographed photo of him in his rather fetching hat sitting on my desk.
Why does he feel it necessary to create these exhibits? What’s wrong with textbooks?
Will this exhibit give children nightmares?
Sponge Bob is way freakier than anything in this exhibit.
Do the bodies feel real?
I am pretty sure they no longer have feelings. For those highly tactile individuals, there are a select number of Plastinates available at a demo counter outside the gallery.
If one of the body donors died of a contagious disease, could it still infect the living?
In this exhibit, everything is completely preserved and harmless.
Is there any smell?
Even though the Plastination process is supposed to halt natural decomposition, is decomposition still going on but very slowly?
No, they are completely preserved, forever and ever, and ever and ever …
Are organizers choosy about which cities this exhibit goes to?
No, who wouldn’t want to come to this awesome city?
How much did it cost to bring this exhibit to The Leonardo?
An arm and a leg … get it?
Does viewing this exhibit go against any major religious beliefs or customs regarding the treatment of the dead?
Not that I know of.
Are any religions clamping down and prohibiting their members from attending?
What is the most oft-heard comment or reaction from people viewing this exhibit for the first time?
“Maybe I won’t have that second helping of funeral potatoes.”