Photo: Respiratory System
As human beings lucky enough to be alive, I think that sometimes we have a tendency to forget that we are in fact human beings lucky enough to be alive. It’s a sobering and somewhat uplifting feeling to realise, “Hey, I am alive. I have my body, mind, and spirit to navigate my existence on this beautiful universe.” The Real Bodies Exhibition was the most exquisite reminder of our shared being, and I am honoured to have been able to attend.
There is a delicate balance between the science and the art of the human body. Some might argue there’s no place for creativity or philosophy in the world of scientific research in fields like biology or medicine. Others might argue that without creative and philosophical prompts, such as “Why bother trying to prolong life?”, there wouldn’t be any advancement in the medical industry. Real Bodies toed the line between the two in such an awe-inspiring way, I was simultaneously overwhelmed by my existence and somehow also at peace in having such a capable agent like my body.
Photo: Bronchial Tree and Pulmonary Veins
As I looked at the preserved anatomical specimens, I couldn’t hep but notice how many of them had similar resemblances to Mother Nature. For example, how the Bronchial Tree and Pulmonary Veins resembled the thriving branches met with the first whispers of a cold winter. Or how the structures of the Heart and Pulmonary Veins hugged itself together like a carefully made bird’s nest ready to become a home. Or the Ducts of a Parotid Gland featured the same facets to a blown out dandelion ready to grant a wish. It humbled me to see just how artistically purposeful, or purposefully artistic, the body I inhabit truly is. And for it to have a connection to the planet that we co-inhabit, it announces such a strong and homely sense of belonging to our skin and our world.
Photo: Heart and Pulmonary Veins
One of my favourite details of the exhibition was the quotes on the wall that accompanied each section. The first section was “Breath”, followed by more such as “Movement”, “Rhythm”, “Think”, “Love”, and so on until “Death & Immortality”. To see the intricate designs of the very mechanism keeping us alive is one thing. To then to see the quote: “What a privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. – Marcus Aurelius”, is such a powerful and masterfully done arrangement. It eases the confrontation that comes with seeing specimens of once-living human beings but in a way that does not dilute the dramatic displays and the message one might take away from them.
My company and I took two hours to absorb every dedicated detail and as we did, we talked about some of the injuries and health issues we’ve had. We both reminisced of the times we had stitches from sports, how he had dislocated his shoulder twice before, and how we both had smokers in our families. Interestingly, many of the 20 preserved human bodies looked as though they had been smokers, according to their blackened lungs. My friend mentioned how he would beg his father to quit the habit while growing up, and proudly told me that two years ago, after 20 years of nagging, his father finally listened. He then chuckled and added that he was now on a quest to get his father to exercise more often.
As we studied the anatomical specimens and shared our stories, we started talking about the fragility of life. How we so easily forget that we are not invincible and the irony in that we also easily forget how extremely capable we are. The irony in knowing we will one day no longer be but not being mindful that we are here now. So what are we aware of, really? We get caught up in life but is it really “life” if we forget the very body that’s keeping us alive? The very body that let’s us face, confront, feel, and react to whatever it is we get caught up in?
A postcard on the wall read, “ Hunger is an essential element that reminds us we are alive every day.” I, and likely many of you, have never thought about hunger that way. Hunger almost has a negative connotation to it. It makes us moody, exhausted, and angry, so much so that “hangry” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. But what if we changed the way we looked at hunger? What if we saw it as our bodies asking us to re-fuel because it’s accomplished so much today? What if we reward and thank our bodies, and thus our existence, for all it’s done and will continue to do? What if did the same to everything we face in life while we can?
The powerful presentations of our well-crafted organs, the beautiful maze of our veins, the journey from an embryo to a foetus to a new life, our skeleton that holds our biological beings together for us to live in every way but spinelessly, and the people who donated their bodies and the lives they must’ve previously lead is something that will stick with me for as long as I have this body.
Though this is an exhibition of the human body, my takeaway from this absolutely extraordinary experience is that we must live mindfully. Be mindful of our bodies, how we treat it, how we use it, how we navigate life with it, and what we make of the short time we have alive.
I hope that you will visit The Real Bodies Exhibition to foster your own takeaway and your own reflections. Because as wonderfully similar as our biological bodies are, as individuals we walk own our different paths. It is what makes us human.
Real Bodies: The Exhibition is on from 14 April 2018 for a limited time. More details on tickets and location can be found here: www.realbodiesexhibition.com.au/about/
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