Real corpse human body exhibition finds home in Piccadilly Circus
Dr Angelina Whalley carries on the work of her Body Works husband
14 September, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
THE work of Dr Gunther von Hagens has been met by a mixture of fascination, horror and awe – and now the physician’s trademark exploration of the human body, using real corpses, has found a permanent home in Piccadilly Circus.
His exhibition, Body Worlds, which has toured the globe, opens in October in the former Trocadero Centre. Dr von Hagens gained infamy for inventing a process that squeezed out bodily fluids and replaced them with plastics, creating extraordinary, preserved, figures and providing an eerie insight into the human body.
His work, now continued by his wife, the physician Dr Angelina Whalley, has created controversy, and he has been accused of disrespect, macabre leanings, an almost Frankenstein infatuation with the preservation and study of corpses.
But Dr Whalley says the work is solely about educating us about how incredible the human body is, fostering a greater understanding of how biology works, and promoting public health. The new museum will stretch over five floors, full of real human corpses, displayed in a number of poses, a trademark of the von Hagens brand.
Dr Whalley said: “The museum works as a guided tour through the human body, starting on the top floor and then walking you through various aspects of our anatomy. It is a large area and we have never occupied a space like this, and it is a large collection. At last we can bring a large collection of specimens for permanent display, in dramatic poses.”
The pieces by Body Worlds have toured the world, drawing huge crowds wherever it has gone: but this new, permanent space offers something not seen before in the UK.
Dr Whalley added: “Compared to previous exhibitions, it is more contemporary. In the very beginning, when we started back in 1977, we were more related to the anatomy of the body but over the years we saw that the more our work can relate to people’s lives, the greater the impact. We have looked at certain themes with our touring exhibits. We wanted, for example, to create a story of the heart. We wanted to look at aging, how the body develops over your life cycle. In London, we will be focusing on living in the 21st century. We rush through our lives, we put big strains on our bodies and we forget about what our bodies actually need to be healthy, to operate.”
The show, in the former Trocadero, the one-time shopping centre with video game arcades, starts with visitors discovering the mysteries of the brain, adds Dr Whalley. “We show how it shapes us as people like no other organ, and then we look at the nervous system, how disease affects us, and explain how stress affects us.”
Other areas focus on reproduction, movement and breathing. New bodies – all donated to the von Hagens institute in Germany to under go their preservation process – will be on display, and some have a particularly English touch, with the show including corpses set in poses as if they are playing a game of poker: a display commissioned originally for the James Bond film, Casino Royale. “This is a beautiful collection, with dramatic specimens in new poses,” said Dr Whalley. “And I want everyone who comes to say “Wow, I will not take my body for granted again’. What you do to your body matters. The body you have is the result of your lifestyle. It is you who is responsible. “This is about public health. I am a physician and this is the most important goal of Body Worlds. It is extremely empowering to see what you are made of.”