Offended academic smashes German doctor's "Plastination" exhibit in London
March 29, 2002 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Offended academic smashes German doctor's "Plastination" exhibit in London "I decided I would walk into the exhibition with a hammer and smash up the most expensive exhibit to make the point that you cannot turn bodies into commercial exhibits." This exhibit was discussed on March 21.
posted by planetkyoto (29 comments total)
It is a tricky one, using people as art, but at the end of the day - "We make sure we have consent from everybody that is featured in the exhibition"

Is there really any difference between stuffing an animal and putting it on display, and stuffing a human?

What about mummies at exhibitions? Why are they not immoral?
posted by twistedonion at 8:04 AM on March 29, 2002

I have to agree with the German doctor. There should be more of this direct, "criticism in action." What influence does the average person have to balance the immense institutional power of these museums and galleries? I'd like to see is guerilla run-through of the Whitney Biennial, with non-artists smashing and destroying right and left, knocking video monitors and computer terminals to the floor, ripping text from the walls, and hurling excrement. The only difficulty would be that no one would be able to tell the difference.
posted by Faze at 8:10 AM on March 29, 2002

Faze: And the Louvre or the Guggenheim. Smash them. Destroy all art. Right, that's just assanine. I can't even begin to imagine where this guy gets off. The sanctity of the human body has been violated by putting it on display so I'll smash it with a hammer? WTF?
posted by shagoth at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2002

I find this German doctor very creepy (perhaps it's the phrase 'German doctor' that does it) and I find his little tableaux morbid and creepy. I have disliked this exhibition since I first heard of it, but I don't think destroying it with a hammer is the way to go.

He uses the argument that it is all about respecting and marvelling at the wonder of the human body. But, hey, look around! You can do that about all the living, breathing humans all around you. I would rather wonder at a living body than a plastic-filled corpse.

I have no problem with looking at stuffed animals, but I would much rather look at living ones . As for mummies, I think it is desecration that any of them are still on display. There was certainly no consent given in their case. Quite the opposite. The only stuffed corpse I like is Jeremy Bentham.
posted by evanizer at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2002

I hope they throw the book at him. If you're going to engage in civil disobedience, then you should expect to face the consequences. Also, I'm sure there were other, less destructive, modes of protest available to him.
posted by anapestic at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2002

Doresn't anyone else think that this kind of exhibit can be marvelously educational in a deep-down, know-your-body kind of way? I wish I were there to see it. The images look fascinating.
posted by scarabic at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2002

What's more disrespectful to the dead? Displaying them as they agreed to be displayed, or smashing their corpses to smithereens with a blunt object?
posted by pardonyou? at 8:47 AM on March 29, 2002

I wish I could have seen it too. I saw a special about it on TLC a few months ago and it was totally fascinating. oh well. it appears as though art has taken a step back today.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:11 AM on March 29, 2002

scarabic, yes. it doesn't hurt people (even children) to know what's inside them, and even to have to think about death. we're all going to die, and we're all made of pretty weak parts. is that a secret now?
posted by rhyax at 9:15 AM on March 29, 2002

When I first read about this exhibit (in an earlier post), my immediate reaction was one of slight discomfort. Something didn't seem quite right about humans put on display (the whole sanctity of the human body thing). However, once I learned that the artist/doctor had consent of the individuals in the exhibit I was put at ease. My feelings quickly changed to wonderment.

The human body is really quite amazing. And I agree with scarabic, I think the exhibit is a rare opportunity to marvel at ourselves. I hope it makes its way overseas.
posted by treedream at 9:26 AM on March 29, 2002

The creepy German movie Anatomie (2000) featured plastination quite prominently (or something very similar). It starred Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run."

According to IMDB, there's a sequel due out this year.
posted by kurumi at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2002

Geez, it looks like he wasn't so much outraged by the exhibit as he was upset that a five-year-old girl was being exposed to it. Maybe the display is inappropriate for young children, but then isn't the apporpriate response talking to the father of the gilr, or to museum personnel about perhaps setting an age limit for visitors?
posted by UnReality at 10:00 AM on March 29, 2002

After this and the guy with the paint, it's pretty clear that something about this exhibit gets under people's skin.
posted by jjg at 10:01 AM on March 29, 2002

Didn't see that joke coming...
posted by UnReality at 10:14 AM on March 29, 2002

He should be charged with battery. Or murder after the fact.

No, but really, is breaking stuff the best way he can think of to communicate his point of view?

I think Devo was right, we do seem to be devolving rather than evolving.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2002

I find the exhibit intriguing and wish I could get a chance to see it. Yes, it would probably gross me out a bit, but then I was somewhat grossed out by the exhibit at the Chicago Museum of science where they have a guy that has been sliced into a bunch of pieces and preserved behind glass too. Still, it's fascinating to see what the inner workings of the human body looks like ... and it is educational.

Smashing it with a hammer, or destroying it in any way is wrong though since the people that are on exhibit knew what exactly was going to become of them.

The reason I think the display gets under some people's skin is that a lot of people have issues with death in general, and this sort of puts it right out there and in your face.
posted by Orb at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2002

If the thrust of the problem was that a five year old girl was seeing it because her dad took her to see it, why didn't the doctor just hit DAD with the hammer instead?

IMNSHO, I think kids tend to be sort of less grossed out by a lot of things. I know when I was a kid I was really interested in why stuff worked the way it did, including me.

(remember, according to a previous thread that I can't find, one of the most popular snacks with the Spongebob set is goo that oozes from your nose.)
posted by verso at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2002

you cannot turn bodies into commercial exhibits.

That seems to have been proven incorrect.
posted by NortonDC at 11:47 AM on March 29, 2002

Has this fellow's work been attacked 'round the world, or does only America have nutcases that would actually put action behind their words?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:10 PM on March 29, 2002

Has this fellow's work been attacked 'round the world, or does only America have nutcases that would actually put action behind their words?

The attack happened in London, not America. Maybe you should read the post before you comment on it.
posted by anapestic at 12:18 PM on March 29, 2002

you cannot turn bodies into commercial exhibits.

Apparently the guy had never heard of (super)models. Someday scientists will discover that one can learn to live with the existence of offensive material by choosing to look away.
posted by holycola at 12:31 PM on March 29, 2002

wonder what will happen when the exhibit finally Does come to the U.S.

as long as the german doctor doesn't team up with That would be super creepy.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:40 PM on March 29, 2002

Guess I should. Colour me fish-coloured. :-/

So has his work been attacked (literally attacked) anywhere but London?

And is it permissible to figure that everyone in London is a nutcase? Or should I reserve my sweeping generalizations only for the Quebecois?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:21 PM on March 29, 2002

I dunno, I find the exhibit creepy. But, I also get creeped out by mummies. But it's not a factor of 'death' that creeps me out. Corpses don't faze me that much, I'm fairly familiar with Kubler-Ross's work, I carry a living will in my wallet to assure that I don't get hooked to a respirator if I meet the Harvard criteria for brain death. I'm not in any hurry to die (despite the claims of my mother that I smoke just to make sure I die before I have to send her to retire in Boca), but I'm also not afraid of it either. In my philosophy, it's just part of the wheel.

It's the profit-taking on the dead that I think I'm creeped out by. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with humans, in any stage, being treated like a commodity...a tangible product, available for sale or use...especially since the dead are unable to change their minds or legal documents. I also remind you that Mengle had 'consent' to do many of his experiments.

As to the man who smashed it, I think his reaction is primitive. As someone mentioned, it is a devolving from a rational response to an atavistic response. And that's pretty creepy too.
posted by dejah420 at 1:59 PM on March 29, 2002

I have been to the exhibit. It came to Japan 3 times. I didn't see it as an art exhibit at all, but as a magnificent anatomy exhibit. You can snicker at "German doctor" all you want, ut he is an anatomy doctor, and created this technique of Plastination to give med students a better view of anatomy. It's amazing to follow muscle groups, tendons and ligaments, directly, with your own eyes, and see the amazingly complex and interconnected systems of the body. It's not done for shock value, I am convinced, but to see the body stripped of its skin certainly is shocking. I would love to see it again.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:57 PM on March 29, 2002

PlanetKyoto is right -- it's not really an art exhibit at all, as indicated by the creator's identification as a doctor, not an artist. As for vandalism, if people went around destroying everything that offends them... Don't they have a name for that? Taliban.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 11:12 AM on March 30, 2002

I agree, it's not really art although the body is definitely artful in many forms. It's more like science and I pay to get into our local science museum.

I think as an exhibit, it's wonderful. I can't wait to see it. I think that as an advanced society, we have become in many ways disassociated from our bodies -- evidenced in the harsh way we treat our bodies and how we let them get out of shape and flabby. I think this is a great way to look at and understand just what we're made of and how amazing bodies are and to maybe make a connection that wasn't there before.

What is creepy is how close to death this exhibit is. You're not just looking at a model, but a real human being. This crosses a threshold that is frowned upon in society (in many practical ways for good reason).

There are a number of artists (such as Ron Mueck) who specialize in creating lifelike sculpture, sometimes with startling exactness. These have a creepiness, too, and I think for similar reasons.
posted by amanda at 11:52 AM on March 30, 2002

I should have included this link to that Mueck piece, called Big Man. Click on the image for a large scale version.
posted by amanda at 11:59 AM on March 30, 2002

Funny, no one objects to the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed here in DC. Not that I know of, anyway. They have one of the world's largest collections of embryos in murky glass jars, and (at least used to) have an amazingly cool and disturbing leg with elephantitis.

Gross, yeah. But fascinating. We are a pretty cool machine.
posted by umberto at 12:26 PM on March 30, 2002

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