by William, New York Guest concierge
Disclaimer: Contains some photos from the Bodies Exhibit which may not appeal to everyone. Proceed with caution!
Since the dawn of time, the human species has been intrigued by exactly how our bodies work; what they are made of, how they move, how they are reproduced, and what happens when they die. Animal dissections gave us a better understanding of our own bodies, however, human dissection was outlawed in many ancient civilizations. Over the millennia, theories changed, human dissection was allowed, technology improved to the point that we could explore many of the body’s workings without causing harm to the body itself. After all this time, we have the fruits of our labor, Bodies: The Exhibit, which culminates centuries of exploration and study into a concise, yet thorough journey of discovery.
The Exhibit started off with a timeline of the major turning points in the understanding of the human anatomy. Some of the names were familiar; Hippocrates, Pasteur; Watson & Crick (they discovered DNA). We were told that we would be seeing real human cadavers preserved with a special technique which replaces all the water in the body with silicon. This ensures that the structure of the body is kept completely intact, on a cellular level. There was a quote on the wall here, a simple gesture but one of my favorite points; “Our bodies are the one thing we carry with us from the moment we are born till the moment we die.” This explains the never ending need to find out as much as we can about our bodies.
After this quaint introduction, you are taken through different sections of the body, the skeleton being first. There are bones on display that run the complete gamut of the bones in our body, from the thick and tough femur all the way down to the brittle inner ear bones and vertebrae. This is also where we were first introduced to a really cool feature of this exhibit. Besides, displaying the bodies, in each section there is a short video explaining how the respective part of the body works in concert with other body systems to do its job. The video also gives great rules of thumb to help maintain and take care of each part of the body. It was neat the see these videos throughout the exhibit.
After the skeleton, came the real meaty part; the muscles (pun intended). As we made our way into this room, we saw this wasn’t just any exhibit. There was artistry to how the bodies were prepared for presentation. Bordering on the cusp of the realm of knowledge and the realm of creativity, the sculpturing of the bodies offer a vantage point that is unavailable anywhere else as well as adding a pleasing atheistic to the exhibit.
Next, came the Nervous system where we had great views of several different brains, the spinal cord, and the nerves themselves. There were some fascinating examples of just how fast the nervous system works. There was also an interactive game called “Mind Ball” which uses takes a measurement of your brain activity and uses it to push a ball into your opponent’s goal. Despite the title of the game, the point was actually to relax, and have less brain activity. I lost every time.
Turning the corner we came upon a powerful display. Set up in a symmetrical fashion, a healthy respiratory system was displayed next to a smoker’s respiratory system. The difference was overwhelmingly apparent. In front of the display was a sign which read, “Stop smoking today,” and a chest-high clear plastic bin that was halfway full of cigarettes packs, loose tobacco, rolling papers, and other paraphernalia. It was a humbling sign of how we treat our bodies.
Moving onto the digestive system, there was an interesting display of the entire torso with the skin and muscle removed. This unique perspective painted a clear picture of how the internal organs fit snuggly together, almost like a jigsaw puzzle – a totally different view from the pictures in your high school textbook!
Next stop, the reproductive system, and a special section on fetal development. It is truly breathtaking to see how we develop from one cell to trillions. When you see a newborn baby it looks like a small human; but the embryo it comes from looks nothing like the baby. For the faint at heart, or those who simply don’t feel like explaining it to their children, there is another pathway which allows you to bypass this section.
The end of the exhibit focused on diseases of the body; the fatal, the harmless, and mostly everything in between. There were also a few specimens who displayed signs of surgery – metal plates, braces, and joint replacements – mankind’s attempt to conquer disease and death. After being told the entire time not to touch the bodies, there finally was a point where you were allowed to handle a few specimens. Don’t worry this part is not required, but it was most definitely a fun time. As we made our customary exit through the gift shop, I was reunited with one of my long lost childhood friends: The Magic School Bus is a children series I adored as a child, and their book on the human body found its way into the Bodies gift shop.
As we traversed the cobble stone streets of the historical South Street Seaport outside the Bodies exhibit, I reflected on all the surprising treasures the exhibit had shown me. It was more than what the name lends it. It was not just a bunch of bodies laid out for display. It was an artistically rich exploration of the human form through the careful arrangement and orchestration of a collection composed of organic and naturally occurring samples. It was a complete tour presented in a logical, easy to follow manner giving the viewers a comprehensive tutorial on how their bodies work so they may understand what is needed to healthily maintain them. It was a visually stunning experience that paradoxically humbles you and brings great pride to the amazing collaboration that is our bodies. It was Bodies: The Exhibit.