Gunther von Hagens has launched another sensational exhibition, Body Worlds of Animals. Like the original Body Worlds, this exhibition uses plastination to preserve and exhibit dead bodies. Unlike the original exhibition, however, these bodies belonged to nonhuman animals before they became part of this exhibit. (Although I do recall a horse being included in the original Body Worlds, however, the focus there was most decidedly on human anatomy.)
There are, apparently, a wide range of animal bodies included in this exhibition. According to The Telegraph, several of these animal bodies were donated to the exhibition by the Neunkirchen Zoo. Through this donation we are encouraged to keep gazing upon these animals for our own entertainment, education, and enlightenment, even after their death. Unlike the dead humans in the original Body Worlds, these animals did not (could not?) give consent for their bodies to be used in this manner any more than they gave their consent to have been put on display in the zoo in the first place.
On the website for this exhibition Dr. von Hagens states that: “The more the individual thinks about the fragility of his or her body, the more respectful he or she will become toward other people and animals. BODY WORLDS of ANIMALS makes a valuable contribution to animal welfare and to increased appreciation of endangered species. The exhibition strongly supports the educational mission of the zoo and animal welfare organizations.”
The argument, it appears, is that this exhibition makes viewers realize the “fragility” of their bodies and, in turn, this leads to a heightened sense of appreciation of other species. This is a pretty tenuous link, one that echoes numerous arguments that have been made in favour of public zoos and animal theme parks throughout their history. According to this line of thinking, seeing animals in captivity or as “performers” somehow will make humans better appreciate nonhuman animals. The abundance of animal cruelty cases, the extinction (or near-extinction) of species and the destruction of habitats seems to be evidence to the contrary. Further, the notion that continued exploitation of animal bodies somehow supports animal welfare initiatives is very troubling.
PS: Is the giraffe on the Body Worlds of Animals website blinking!?? How many different kinds of creepy is that? Compare this to the stoic-looking splash screen for the original Body Worlds, with its visual nod to the very serious business of science and technology. A dead, blinking giraffe? Really?!?
2 thoughts on “Animal Body Worlds”
Agreed, I also find this disturbing, particularly around the issue of consent. Have you read Don McKay’s Vis a Vis? The notion of matériel… second order appropriation speaks to the concerns I think we both have with this: We not only take animals’ lives, but we also take their deaths, and refuse to let their bodies return to the earth.
I haven’t read Don McKay, but I’ll put that title on my summer “to read” list. Thanks for the suggestion — keep ’em coming!