When Dead Animals Teach

Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out

 

Unlike the young mad scientist’s laboratory of dissected creatures found beneath the bowels of our home, the Animal Inside Out exhibit was strikingly sterile. There was nothing about the animal corpses on display which identified them as such. Devoid of the intoxicating stench of blood and decay permeating the walls of Julius’ lab which eventually creeped its way into the various corners and hidden passageways of our dark home, the exhibit was far from being a “theatre of the dead”. They were merely intricate sculptures - nothing more, nothing less. Julius was both fascinated and horrified at what he deemed the maker’s obsession with portraying the mortal coil in a manner far removed from the usual unclean horrors death and its finality brings.

Without the common odious markings of death evident in the exhibit, Mister Bain, always replete with bright-eyed innocence and unabashed goodness, begged to pet some of the unsullied creatures on display. Marie looked on in silence shivering now and then in a pretentious display more indicative of her strong penchant for theatrics as opposed to having actual feelings of disgust. Unbeknownst to those around her, a myriad of thoughts was creeping around in her always preoccupied mind and keeping them safely contained from outside provocation was proving to be a challenge more and more for Marie.

Mr. Bane did not grace us with his explosive presence that day nor in the days to follow. Mister Bain appeared to be winning the intrinsic dual struggle between him and his nefarious counterpart but it was too early to tell.

Theatre of the Dead

What is it about death and its perceived connection with a being’s physical form that influences how one reacts to corpses on display? From visiting bone churches, catacombs, graveyards, macabre exhibits portraying death, to the massive followings of artists who create artwork which can be likened to taxidermy, Western society has always had a fascination with our own mortality. This morbid attraction to death has been studied and researched by various academics and theorists who seek to understand society’s views on and relationships with our own inevitable demise. In an effort to shed light on this cultural preoccupation with death, Circus Living will be examining the theme of Death as a form of theatre - as a spectacle if you will - in the following weeks. JOIN our mailing list to keep updated on upcoming features surrounding this theme and to get sneak peeks of what’s yet to come.

Animal Inside Out:
The blurred distinction between animals and humans

Since we live in Montreal, our first post brings us to a local exhibit. For this post, we examine the Animal Inside Out: Body Worlds exhibition currently being held at the Montreal Science Centre until March 12, 2017. If you are from or around the area and have not caught the exhibit, I strongly urge you to do so. Notwithstanding the educational component the exhibit promotes, visiting Animal Inside Out encourages contemplation, introspection, and attaining a better understanding of our own spiritual ties.

Plastinated Bull at the Animal Inside Out: Body Worlds Exhibit

Von Hagen’s Body Worlds exhibit showcasing human forms provoked controversy and backlash when it was first introduced in 1995. Many were unable to accept the deliberate display of human corpses fashioned in various poses under the rubric of scientific research and discovery. Reviews and commentaries surrounding the Animal Inside Out exhibit, in contrast, have not yielded a similar outrage. It begs the question - why hasn't an exhibit like Animal Inside Out incite the same level of controversy and protest which emerged with its human equivalent? Perhaps society has attained a certain familiarity with viewing dead animals on display that doing so has become, dare I say, commonplace. Taxidermy and hunting trophies, for example, though they carry controversy and backlash all on their own, are time old traditions that have exposed society to posed dead animals more so than to the display of human cadavers. It is difficult not to conclude that there exists a desensitization to seeing animal corpses which has developed over time. There is also the argument that various parts of Western Culture simply do not value animals as much as they value human life.

Education as Spectacle: An exhibit more about the human viewer than the animals on display

Certainly, if it isn’t already glaringly obvious, an emphasis has to be made that no animals were harmed for the Animal Inside Out exhibit. It does not take away from the fact, however, that viewers of the exhibit are still viewing real animal parts; namely, the organs, vertebrae, and arteries of animals who were once living and breathing creatures in artistically lavish presentations. In some ways, I felt a certain degree of dissonance admiring the musculature of a peacock deliberately and meticulously fashioned as if the peacock was alive and still in motion. The exhibit contained such wondrously enthralling displays of blood, guts, veins, and bones that I cannot help but feel a tad disturbed describing my admiration for it all to others. It was hard not to be amazed and taken in by the intricacies and details of the horse standing on its hind legs for example with its defined and intricate musculature and its fur and skin still left intact on parts of its face to remind us that this stripped down animal was once alive. In the end, why do I feel conflicted about enjoying the exhibit's artistry beyond the educational component?

Plastinated Ostrich at the Animal Inside Out: Body Worlds Exhibit
Encouraging Discourse: An exercise in self-revelation

How about you? Would you find yourself feeling revolted, apathetic, fascinated, or perhaps all of these emotions simultaneously fully aware of the morbid reality that these were dissected corpses erected to feed your curiosity? I am certainly not here to judge - there is no right or wrong answer here. I urge you to share with me your thoughts as I am genuinely curious. You can do so on our page on facebook, send me a tweet, or introduce yourself and send me an e-mail. Regardless of our feelings towards the exhibit, it sheds light on our own reactions and thoughts surrounding death, the physical form, and our feelings towards our animal counterparts. Attending the exhibit is an exercise in self revelation.

"Death" as Spectacle: Re-fashioning death and its symbols

Another interesting thing to note about the exhibit is the way it disguises death. The animals on display are devoid of the usual messy characteristics of death. The sight and stench often accompanying dead things are not apparent and have been removed through the process of plastination. Because the exhibit does not subject you to putrid corpses, a certain degree of detachment when viewing the exhibit comes easier. One can only surmise how the degree of outrage or reactions would have changed if plastination did not allow the public the opportunity to view these anatomies, human or animal, away from the real horrors of death on display.

Plastinated Human at the Animal Inside Out: Body Worlds Exhibit
Would I recommend the exhibit to families?

And ah, the million dollar question for those of you who came to this post wanting to read more than my philosophical meanderings. Yes, I recommend families attend the exhibit for mainly two reasons.

1) It encourages open dialogue. The exhibit aims to educate. It is designed to hold your and your children's fascination. It aims to teach and where it may fail to teach, it challenges one’s self to reflect on one’s own emotions and reactions towards the cadavers on display. Your reactions and your children’s reactions toward the exhibit can encourage thoughtful communication and inevitably self-reflection and awareness.

2) It allows you to thoroughly study animal anatomy - this is as close as you're going to get without you having to do the dissection yourself. Plastination strips the horrors and disgust commonly associated with images of death. Death, in a sense, becomes sanitized - the animal anatomy on display becomes better posed as an educational tool as opposed to simply becoming images of death and decay. Your children will be able to study animal insides without having nightmares. Only you, of course, know your children. I have always been a purveyor of using elements of the horror genre to educate but my children have been exposed to horror literature and films since they were toddlers and are able to manage their fears when it comes to monsters likely more so than the average child. I do not think this particular exhibit will scare children and several other reviews have attested so (just Google it) but I leave it up to you to decide.

Plastinated Goat at the Animal Inside Out: Body Worlds Exhibit
Exhibit details: The where and the when

Where: Montreal Science Centre
When: Ends March 12, 2017

Disclosure: All or a portion of this event was sponsored or provided at a reduced cost in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed in this post are my own - no pretenses here!

For more info on the Montreal Science Centre

Montreal Science Centre

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