Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Body Worlds Exhibit - Amazing Uncomfortable Learning!

Since yesterday was so busy, I am blogging about my new "uncomfortable learning" experience today. Find out about my last uncomfortable learning experience here.

Yesterday, my Life Drawing class went on a field trip to the San Diego Natural History Museum to see the Body Worlds & The Brain- Our Three-Pound Gem exhibit. It was amazing!

The exhibit is of real bodies and body parts preserved using a method called "Plastination" which was developed by the show's creator Gunther von Hagens. The bodies were donated by people for the purpose of being used for this exhibition. The plastination process is too complex to go into here, but you can learn more about it by going to the link above. The result of this plastination are real bodies preserved for us to study anatomy in a whole new way!

This experience falls under my category of "Uncomfortable Learning" because of the creepiness factor. These are real bodies - very human and very similar to my own body. Last time there was a show like this in San Diego, I talked myself out of going. Do I want to see real bodies without their flesh on? Is it going to be like attending an autopsy? Ick! No, not for me.

But this time, it was required for my Life Drawing class (although I could have gotten out of it), so I had to go. The tickets are quite expensive for the show too, so that was also a factor. However since we got a group rate and a student discount, I couldn't pass up the chance to see them. Gross or not, I was going!

As an artist, I am fascinated by the figure, especially figurative sculpture. It is also one of the hardest areas to study because all of the learning materials are two-dimension representations or live models who have to move positions frequently. There is a book called "Virtual Pose" which is the newest form of learning the figure. It is has .jpgs on a CD-rom which are viewed with Quicktime. These models, which are posted like they would be for a figure drawing class, can be rotated 360 degrees, and zoomed in to see all the details. As great as these references are, they are still lacking - and usually with that pesky skin covering up all the muscles!

So my uncomfortable learning experience was to go through this exhibit and sketch some of the plastinates (their proper name for the preserved bodies). My instructor required only one drawing of leg muscles, but I found myself sketching throughout the exhibit. Here are two of the quick drawings that I did that day.

Drawing is not my strong suit, but I think you get the idea of what I was seeing and experiencing. The full body drawing was of a woman who was five-months pregnant when she died. The baby is preserved inside her belly and it is silt open to see how it fits in. The back is also slit open so you can see her black smoker's lung which the cause of her death. This makes me so sad, but it also is a rare opportunity to see inside our most amazing bodies.

There were other fetuses in the show, as well as embryos in viewing tubes. This is the most controversial part of the show. I have no problem with this show, and think that anyone, but especially artists, could benefit from seeing it. The most uncomfortable part of the show for me was seeing the fetuses, and the shock of those first few plastinates.

Towards the end of the exhibit space, they had plastinates in very dynamic poses. The pose called "Head Diver" was particularly spectacular. It had the internal organs in a standing stationary position, the head and some muscles leaning forward in a diving position, and the skeleton and rest of the muscles leaning backwards. The words do not do it justice.

I am so glad I got out of my comfort zone and experienced the Body World exhibit!

Your Turn: What kind of uncomfortable learning experiences have you had? Ever step outside of your comfort zone and been amazed by the experience? If we have amazing experiences, why do we stay in our comfort zone?


  1. Cool! I've wanted to see this exhibit for a long time--It actually came to my city last year and I missed it because I was busy and kept putting off going. Would really like to see it someday--I can see how it would be disturbing but fascinating at the same time.

  2. Great!! I hope I get to see that...have wanted to since reading about these exhibits, a year or so ago. I was in art school, taking life drawing over thirty years ago..haa. Our reference was a very good one: Anatomy For The Artist by Jeno Barcsay...excellent. I still use it.

  3. "Disturbing and fascinating" is a great description of the exhibit. Although I think that the fetuses where harder to look at than any of the adults.

    Claude, as for that reference book, that sounds really good. I have the Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet which has wonderful frosted overlays that show the bones over a picture of the model. Helpful, but again not 3-D and full life sized! I really want to go spend the day that this exhibit and sketch them from all angles. I think drawing is a life skill, so I think that thirty years worth of drawing must have improved your skills! I am nowhere near where I want to be drawing wise.

  4. I keep thinking about going, but I haven't made it yet. My uncomfortable learning would have to be the hula hoop class down on the beach. I'll try to blog about it soon!

  5. Hula hooping at home would be uncomfortable learning enough for me rather than being out in public doing it! I am dying to see your blog about it.


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