Body Count

Flayed cadavers flout controversy and pack the house

All the cadavers and organs on exhibit are odorless and have been cured through a process called polymer preservation, which replaces body fluids with liquid plastic that, once hardened, leaves tissues intact. It allows spectators to examine the specimens from inches away.

Even though most of the corpses have been totally flayed of their skins, facial features such as the nose, eyelids, eyebrows, and lips often remain, leaving human expressions unaltered.

The Chinese men's sexual organs have been skinned, but the women's genital regions curiously have been preserved in sanitary-napkin-size flaps and their pubic hair closely cropped. These details freaked out many onlookers.

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Some of the bodies have been weirdly carved up. A body displayed in the section showing how the nervous system operates is posed like an orchestra conductor raising a baton over his head. The man's skull has been sliced to resemble a hockey mask and his chest cut open to appear like a vest. The muscles of his abdomen have been diced in a checkered pattern. Close by, a corpse sits at a small wooden table and leans over a medical textbook as if studying the surface anatomy of the head and neck. His skull has been whittled into a breadbasket shape around the intact brain. A sign nearby informs that the spinal cord transmits millions of nerve impulses per second at speeds exceeding 270 miles per hour.

In a darkened room highlighting the circulatory system, a process known as corrosion casting was used to reveal the body's intricate matrix of blood vessels. Veins and arteries were injected with a colored polymer that hardens, and the surrounding tissue removed by a corrosive chemical.

A specimen depicting the arteries of the trunk maintained the shape of a torso, with several pencil-thick veins and thickets of cotton-candy-thin capillaries all colored a fire-engine red. A display showing the blood supply to the face and skull resembles a widow's veil, with scarlet earthworm-shape tendrils covering a bleached skull's surface.

The creep factor was cranked up in a room dedicated to embryonic and fetal development. Fetuses are displayed in glowing cylinders and treated with alizarin, a red dye that binds to their calcium to demonstrate bone growth. The bodies of well-developed fetuses, one with a cleft lip, another with spina bifida, and yet another with a visceral hernia, left a sour taste.

Throughout the exhibit, vitrines display healthy and damaged organs side-by-side to educate visitors and encourage them to make healthier lifestyle choices. A smoker's tarred lungs have been placed next to a healthy pair, and severe cases of cancer in some body parts show up next to normal specimens.

Next to a display of a smoker's carbonized lungs, exhibitors placed a plastic container for spectators to discard their cigarette packs. Over it a sign warned smokers that a pack of cigarettes shaves two hours off one's life. "We'd like you to be around longer.... Stop smoking now!" it read. Dozens of packs lined the see-through container's bottom.

Most of the comment books on a table near the exit were full of positive remarks from viewers who had visited that day. "Amazing," one noted. "Everyone should see the exhibit and perhaps respect their bodies and take better care of them as a result."

"Bodies" is certainly well presented and allows people a better understanding of how their own anatomy works. But given the sketchy information surrounding the corpses' origins and the undeniably commercial nature of the show, it's easy to see why it gives pause to the ethically minded.

When New Times was exiting the show, Daniel Kellett, general manager of the Miami exhibit, never broached the topic of where the bodies came from, but focused instead on the box office.

"We will be opening a gift shop offering customers key chains, T-shirts, and coffee mugs relating to the exhibit soon," he said. "During the Super Bowl, we are going to wrap buses and transit trains with advertising to promote the show. We hope to place a sign on the blimp as well."

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