Friday, 2 October 2009

'Exquisite Bodies' at the Wellcome Collection

Anyone squeamish is advised to steer clear of the 'Exquisite Bodies' exhibition, subtitled ‘The Curious And Grotesque Story Of The Anatomical Model’ at the Wellcome Collection. The wax-work models on show here are anatomical replicas formerly used as teaching aids for surgeons and midwives and Madame Tussaud's this is not!

Featuring graphic deconstructions of the human anatomy in states ranging from fascinating to festering. These models often took the form of alluring female figures that could be stripped and split into different sections. The exhibit includes toy like models built up from several layers and
plastic body parts, one being that of a pregnant subject dissected to reveal her unborn foetus . It could be a very dark (and detailed) version of the game 'Operation'. Further teaching models include a life size wood and leather torso complete with cloth baby which was used to demonstrate
various birthing methods.

Other models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by syphilis, tuberculosis or drug addiction. With their capacity to titillate as well as educate, anatomical models became sought-after curiosities in 19th century. They became a weapon of propaganda, combining entertainment with a public health service; providing a warning to society about living in an 'ungodly' way.

The display of models, all with their own indivdual varieties of venereal disease is worthy of note for the impressive level of detail. As is the gruesome model of a man cleanly severed through his torso, revealing a fascinting cross section for us to examine but a very bad day at the office for the poor man who was the inspiration for this piece if his modelled face is anything to go by!

However the area cordoned off with a tempting red velvet curtain complete with warning sign for those of a sensetive disposition is probably the most controversial. However, the cabinet of infected groins and potentially racially offensive pieces isn't even lit, meaning that patrons can't really examine it without pulling the curtain open revealing the oh-so horrific contents of the hidden section, concious that they might be offending somebody else in the room. I doubt very much that the curtain or the warning have really put anybody off taking a peek and wonder if it should have been curtained at all. That said, my stomach may be made of stronger stuff than some.

Just as educational, and just as stimulating, as when these pieces where first made, this is definately one to see. Macabre and marvellous!

Exquisite Bodies at the Wellcome Collection, ends on 18 October. Entry is free.

See the website for associated events and introductory videos.

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