Breathtaking body of work

2013-03-24 10:00

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The clichéd saying ‘up close and personal’ doesn’t get this telling.

When you’re dealing with the dead, the devil is in the detail.

That’s why one of the newer exhibits at Body Worlds and the Cycle of Life, a woman frozen mid-coitus with her partner, has painted nails and is wearing a pair of boots.

After a successful run in Cape Town, the exhibition has moved to Newtown in Joburg, setting up shop at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

Body Worlds, the brainchild of German couple Gunter von Hagens and Angelina Whalley, showcases the human body using a technology called plastination.

It’s a complex process in which the body’s liquid content is drained after death. People donate their bodies to the couple, knowing full well they may end up on display.

The bodies are then pumped full of polymers or liquifiable plastics like silicone. Once that’s done, they can be touched, and do not decay or emit any smell.

Whalley, a doctor who is also the exhibition’s conceptual planner and designer, says when Body Worlds first launched in Japan in 1995, people complained that the bodies “looked dead”.

She says: “Then, we were presenting them lying down flat for the viewers. So we’ve since started showing them in lifelike poses.”

According to her, it costs about €50?000 (about R602?000) to make one human specimen. There are 200 specimens on display at Body Worlds.

“There is no special funding involved. The exhibition and project is, through money from paying visitors, able to sustain itself.”

Whalley says almost everyone who visits Body Worlds returns, telling the organisers they have learnt “not to take their bodies for granted”.

»?The exhibition runs in Joburg until June 30

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