Bodies fantastic

Bodies fantastic

A special exhibition pays homage to the universe within us


The Human Bodies Exhibition features 200 preserved whole-body specimens and organs.
The Human Bodies Exhibition features 200 preserved whole-body specimens and organs.
Photo: The Venetian Macao
Crisscrossing the body is a fine tapestry of blood vessels. They transport all the oxygen and nutrients our organs and muscles need to function. If you lined up an adult's blood vessels end to end, they would circle the equator 2.5 times.

Hard to imagine? So picture the "blood vessel man" then with the body's vessels clearly marked all over him, from head to toe. He is one of 200 preserved whole-body specimens and organs on display at a new exhibition at The Venetian Macao in Macau.

The Human Bodies Exhibition allows visitors to explore the universe within themselves - from the muscular structure to the respiratory, digestive, nervous and reproductive systems. Also among the exhibits are a five-week-old embryo, horizontally sliced bodies, and "muscle man".

Items of anatomy that were once the preserve of medical schools accessed only by doctors and students are now on public display, says Sui Hongjin, the exhibition's organiser and head of the anatomy department at Dalian Medical University.

Sui's team preserves bodies by a technique called plastination, which replaces bodily fluids and fat with plastic. It involves four steps: embalming and positioning the body with formaldehyde; draining the fluids with acetone; soaking the body in a pool of silicon rubber or polyester; and putting it under UV light to harden.

Unlike taxidermy-preserved animals and bottled specimens common in natural history museums, plastinated bodies do not smell or decay. "The best thing about plastination is that the exhibit could last forever and retains most properties in its natural shape," Sui says. "The resulting bodies have a high degree of rigidity so they can be displayed in life-like poses."

Sui tends to choose bodies which belong to tall, strong men in good condition to make full-body specimens. There are only three female bodies on display.

Some people alleged that the bodies came from executed prisoners on the mainland, but Sui stresses that the corpses were legally acquired from proper medical institutions and hospitals. They were "carefully checked" for wounds that would point to an execution. He said the bodies belonged to mainlanders, whose remains were unclaimed after death.

But back to the preservation process: the most difficult body part to preserve is the brain, Sui explains. If anatomists do not work with extra care, the brain, which is full of liquid, will shrink.

Healthy organs are placed next to diseased ones at the exhibition. So you can observe up close the damaging effects of cirrhosis (hardening of the liver), lung cancer or tuberculosis.

"As society prospers and medicinal science improves, we do not only want to live longer, but also better," Sui says. "I hope seeing a smoker's blackened lungs next to a non-smoker's clean ones can vividly show how important a healthy lifestyle is."

Plastination techniques can also be used on terrestrial and marine animals, and even plants.

The exhibition compares the bone structures of whales and humans by displaying their backbones, shoulder blades and ribs.

The exhibition runs until February 24 next year.



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