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The Anatomy of Body Worlds: Critical Essays on the Plastinated Cadavers of Gunther Von Hagens
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Since its Tokyo debut in 1995, Gunther von Hagens’ ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition has been visited by more than 25 million people at museums and science centers across North America, Europe, and Asia. Preserved through von Hagens’ unique process of plastination, the bodies shown in the controversial exhibit are posed to mimic life and art, from a striking re-creation of Rodin’s ““The Thinker”“ to a preserved horse and its human rider, a basketball player, and a reclining pregnant woman – complete with fetus in its eighth month. This interdisciplinary volume analyzes ““Body Worlds”“ from a number of perspectives, describing the legal, ethical, sociological, and religious concerns which seem to accompany the exhibition as it travels the world.Section One focuses on the ways in which von Hagens’ exhibit is designed to elicit a constrained and manipulated viewer response, investigating rhetorical persuasion embedded in the ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition and literature along with the linguistic trickery of donor consent forms. Section Two examines the historical antecedents of ‘Body Worlds’, focusing on how Victorian anatomical museums and freak shows have shaped and informed the contemporary exhibit.Section Three describes the exhibition’s engagement with European historical contexts, including the motif of bodily degradation and the rise of abstractionist art. Section Four focuses on queer or gendered readings of ‘Body Worlds’, while Section Five addresses concerns about the exhibit’s bio-ethical, religious, and spiritual controversies, including arguments that it commodifies the human body and depoliticizes the dead. The book includes photographs of plastinated cadavers and Ron Mueck’s hyper-realist sculptures, along with several anatomical drawings and facsimiles of Victorian anatomical museum catalogs.
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