Body Worlds Vital

WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish or those who do not wish to look at photos of deceased humans. 

Additionally, there was strictly no photography at this exhibition so photographs have been take from The Guardian (Arterial Man’s head) and the Northern Echo (body slices & dissected head).  I’ve linked to their very interesting articles on the exhibition. 

I’ve wanted to see the Gunther Von Hagens Body Worlds Vital exhibition at Newcastle’s Centre for Life for some time now. Strangely, my longing came from an unusual source – watching Casino Royale and the scene where James Bond is chasing villains around an older Body Works exhibition, I became rather intrigued by the plasticisation of human tissue, and how Von Hagens and his team manipulate it into statuesque and remarkable poses. So when my niece Jess suggested we go this morning as part of her pre-uni visit up north to see her relatives, I agreed immediately.

Now I realise that spending time in the company of death is not most peoples’ idea of a bonding outing (perhaps a trip to Vivienne Westwood would have been more so!) but Jess & I are not squeamish, I’ve been fascinated with anatomy for a while and she is studying psychology and has at some point to dissect a human brain. This was the softer option of looking into someone’s head in some respects!

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Truth be told I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react. I knew there were 12 full bodies on display; I hadn’t realised that there would also be a wealth of plasticised organs, slices of human bodies (which were probably the creepiest exhibit for us), slices of brain tissues, contrasting healthy & diseased organs (smokers really should go visit the lungs…and the slice of smokers’ leg with it’s completely necrotic tissue), beautifully detailed nerve pathways throughout the human body etc.  It was very educational (though I might not eat sausage for a while), and I actually would like to go again because there was so much I couldn’t take in.

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

The bodies and organs are all freely donated after death and are anonymous.  You can generally tell which are male & female, and they are dissected and arranged with great care and attention to detail. It’s difficult to describe their beauty, because you are always aware that you are looking at another human, one who can no longer breathe, talk, laugh, smile. But they can communicate and educate – even mundane things like identifying the large muscle that runs from my right shoulder into my neck that ofter goes into spasm and being shocked at how large it is (no wonder it hurts so much!). The dissection techniques that split bodies into 3 separate structures of muscle mass, organs and skeleton are exquisite – though I could perhaps have done without the eyelashes, toenails and navels. Jess definitely agreed about the toenails!

Of all the full bodies exhibited, I was most entranced by Arterial Man. A human skeleton on whom all the flesh had been carefully removed leaving only the bright red outline of the arterial pathways throughout the body, coloured red. It was astounding, both as a work of science and as a work of art.

Arterial Man

Arterial Man

Finally, you come to a small dark room with a warning. I checked with Jess that she wanted to go in, as it was the gestational room, and if any part of this exhibition has the capacity to distress, it’s this one. Beautifully and respectfully presented, it showed the gestational process of humans in the womb. Several illuminated glass tubes held the tiniest of forms, a human foetus at 5 weeks the size of a pea, working up to week 9 when the child was the size of a kidney bean. We were both profoundly moved by these tiny scraps of humanity. Of all the displays, I found this emotionally difficult to view- and caused me an ethical problem. The adults all gave consent to be displayed; I’m not sure how I felt about foetuses being used in this way as their opinions could never be heard. Its something I will have to mull on for a little while.

I would never push anyone else to go see this – in fact Him Underfoot has been advised not to go because he is a great deal more emotional than me and I suspect he would find it very difficult to process. I am very glad I had the opportunity to see this exhibition; we both took so much away from it. Astounding.

Random Facts

Over on Facebook a friend nominated me to come up with 20 random factoids that people may not know about me.  Just did so, and thought it may be fun to share them with you guys.

1. My first name is actually Victoria, but I have always been called by my middle name, Jane. Even now I find it strange when I go to appointments and they call out Victoria
2. I am an April Fool
3. I’m a natural redhead but I have naturally black eye lashes and eye brows (which have a tendency to take over my entire forehead if left unchecked). This causes no end of interrogation from hair dressers etc, who are always amazed that I don’t dye either my hair or my lashes
4. I spent several of my early years living above a pub in Winlaton, a small northern village, where I suspect I lived on a steady diet of coke and salt & vinegar crisps. I used to love the leek shows, the cheese and pickles on the bar, the fact that if I snuck downstairs at closing time I could scavenge fish and chips that were always bought in for the staff. I was also small enough to get under the fixed seating where I used to find so much money people had dropped that I managed to equip my Sindy doll’s house with a splendidly awful yellow and brown bathroon suite.

The Crown & Cannon - my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door

The Crown & Cannon – my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door


5. I bought my first pair of Doctor Martins aged 18 and have been a DM whore ever since. Still can’t do heels, despite being a shrimp. I currently have 4 pairs, including my cherry red shoes, standard black boots, my beautiful heeled Darcy dancing boots and a long pair of patent leathers that are beyond comfortable.
6. I may love goth / rock music, but I also have the guilty pleasure of loving female orientated bubble gum pop which I sing frequently & loudly in the car (Little Mix, Britney, Christina, Girls Aloud, Rihanna, J-Lo, Enrique (he’s an honorary girl))…
7. Ditto Spandau Ballet’s back catalogue. My big brother took me to see them when I was 13 and just getting into music – my first ever concert. I’ve adored them since.
8. You all know I write short stories, but I am also a dreadful poet!
9. After having ME / CFS as a teenager for 2 years I find it difficult to stay up past 9pm on a night time, I crave my bed and can barely function past this time unless fuelled by alcohol.And then I get 3 day hangovers..
10. I am obsessive about how the dishwasher is stacked and frequently have to re-organise rogue items (Him Underfoot can get a little indignant about this!)
11. I LOVE doing surveys & questionnaires and having a good whinge to government / political canvassers, and indeed have just done a doorstep one this morning, for which I rather surprisingly got paid £25.
12. Chocolate may be the food of the gods, but it’s cheese I couldn’t live without!
13. I can’t stop buying inappropriate frocks on Ebay…
14. I always seem to get monumentally hammererd when my big brother David is in the building….! Though of course I take full responsibility for my prodigious libations..
15. I always swore never to have a Kindle but secretly I love it…
16. Roses are my favourite flowers, blackbirds are my favourite birds, so both are encouraged in my yarden (along with a world of weedage)

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

17. My entire life revolves around Miss Sally Robert’s feeding & walking schedule!
18. I hate scratchy sheets and use flannelette even in summer. And my bedding is always white, which is a pain with a black hairy dog in the building.
19. Rather surprisingly, I though both Dracula & Frankenstein were dreadful books to read (as were the two 1990s film versions of each to watch), though I like the story themes.
20. I turn into a screaming howling banshee if ever I come into contact with wasps. There is no rational reason for the existence of wasps, other than to terrorise me. Death to wasp kind!

Random, I know, but did make me (and my brother) smile 🙂

Interlude: Isabella & The Pot of Basil

I’ve been in a bit of a snit recently, hence the radio silence. I had to take myself in hand at one point and force myself out of the house. Many of the local libraries and galleries local to me are currently running small but very well constructed World War 1 exhibitions, so I headed to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to see their petite but interesting selection of original art produced by artists local to my region. I particularly liked lithographs by brothers Philip & Robert Spence from North Shields, and an imposing post war picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevison‘s Twentieth Century that was based on Rodin’s Thinker and somewhat taller than me!

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

I like the Laing, I often used to lurk in there on my lunch breaks as it’s a pretty building and has a nice shop. I know very little about art, but I do like to visit the John Martin paintings there, my favourites being The Burning of Sodom & Gomorrah (which was a commentary on the hell of post industrial revolution factories) and Clyte, where she almost seems to float off the canvas with her own inner light (sadly not captured in a photo).

However, the picture that completely lifted me out of my gloom on this particular visit was one I’d not noticed before – William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil – it had previously been hung up high on the stair walls. Quite rightly it is now more prominently displayed in the permanent collection. It is absolutely stunning. The canvas is massive, I felt dwarfed standing before it.  I’ve seen the Titians at the National Gallery in Edinburgh – this for me actually rivalled them for beauty. The picture I am inserting into this post doesn’t do it justice – it absolute glows from the wall and the intricate details, such as the skulls on the post, are exquisitely rendered. It in turn was inspired by the John Keats poem Isabella.

Holman Hunt's Isabella & the Pot of Basil

Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil

I just sat and admired it. Didn’t want to leave it. Actually wanted to steal it. Still do. It’s amazing how something painted over 150 years ago can still be so fresh, so vivid – and yet the artist will never know how it continues to reach people. A melancholy thought perhaps. But fitting to my current frame of mind.