Spectacular Bodies- Hayward Gallery

I went to the Hayward Gallery to see Spectacular Bodies: The Art & Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now.

It's a gruesome and revealing exhibition in more ways than one. Revealing, because it showed preserved body corpses and body parts with their exposed body sinews, muscles and sawn bones, the skin cut and folded back and in one exhibit only the watery fat of women's breasts supporting trembling nipples, not to mention a severed head on a headrest!

There were anatomy lectures recorded by Rembrandt such as The Anatomy Lesson of Jan Deiuman 1656. All in all, it is a real Chamber of Horrors - Clementi Susi in 1804 showed the beached wreck of an adult male skinned from skull to penis, everything such as kidneys and liver falling out of the carcass. A bit of light relief is given by Leonardo's studies of a horse, as well as Frith's famous painting of the Victorian Railway Station.

Giovan-Battista Manfredini's carved and natural- looking three-quarters figure of a pregnant woman is shown holding aside two great flaps of skin to reveal the contents of her womb with a life-size baby pressed against her uterus (1773 - 76). Gaetano Zumbo's Dissection of the Head (1701) shows how the anatomist and the artist worked hand-in-hand. The Anatomical Crucifixion cast by Thomas Banks in 1801 from the flayed body of a murderer, nailed up to test the position a crucified body would fall into "when. . . . being warm", is perhaps the most powerful and disturbing image in the entire exhibition. Tony Ousler showed a bull's testicles preserved in jars with images of mouths projected on to them as if they were appearing to talk; not to mention six rows of cows' organs pickled in jars by Damien Hirst called for some reason The Lovers (The Committed Lovers). The German Professor - Gunther von Hagens, who discovered a method by which these corpses or body parts could be preserved, has been referred to as Frankenstein (the exhibition was first on show in Germany) but he says he is purely "bringing anatomy to the masses".

The exhibition has received criticism from Christian and Anti-Abortion Groups and a spokesman from the charity "Life" said, "there is something distasteful about this". Critics recalled how Anthony-Noel Kelly was jailed in 1998 for stealing human body parts which he used to make moulds for his sculptures and the directors of the Young Unknowns Gallery in Bermondsey were convicted in 1989 for showing an earring made out of human foetus. A foetus from 18th Century has been shown at the current exhibition decorated with beads around its ankles and wrist; also a child's foot of 300 years ago showing the arterial system; both from the same collection in Leiden (Netherlands) anatomical museum.

Martin Kemp, Professor of History of Art at Oxford University said, "the works are images exploring the miracles of God's creation". Some will find the exhibition fascinating, others will think it is macabre and obscene. I felt somewhat disturbed (especially when I saw the print of a man feeding a dog human body parts). Due to the fact that I have had many surgeries, I think that the exhibition left me feeling a bit stressed, but this is only my opinion.


Verinha Ottoni.


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