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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Not for the faint of heart!

If you have ever flicked onto Channel 4 past midnight to discover an eccentric German sawing a frozen cadaver in two, then you are almost certainly familiar with the work of Gunther Von Hagens. If not, then let me introduce you:

Gunther Von Hagens is an anatomist and inventor of Plastination, a process that halts the decomposition of the body after death with the use of reactive polymers.

Through this process of preservation, which differs from conventional preservation in that the respective body parts (be it a vein, organ or entire body) are preserved from the inside out, meaning that bodies can be positioned in all manner of poses.  These exihibits explicitly reveal the biology that we have been taught since pre-school but have never been able to see in all it’s tactile beauty. 

Gunther says “When, as an anatomy assistant, I saw my first specimen embedded in a polymer block, I wondered why the polymer had been poured around the outside of the specimen as having the polymer within the specimen would stabilize it from the inside out. I could not get this question out of my mind”

...and so, like all good Mad Scientists, he experimented, made mistakes, turned the process on it's head then introduced his invention to the scientific community.

Plastination works by removing water and fats from the body and replacing them with reactive polymers*, thus depriving bacteria of what they need to survive and halting any bacterial decomposition.

(*For a full explanation of the process of plastination click here)

Gunther’s exhibitions present preserved cadavers, kicking footballs, riding horses still born babies and, tragically, babies still safely tucked inside their mothers, in galleries around the world. 

His recent work has worked more with the bodies of animals which, for me, is particularly fascinating.  The anatomy of an elephant tends not to be on the curriculum in even the very best of schools. 

I truly believe you have to see these exhibits ‘up close and personal’ (more personal than you could imagine!) to really understand their import and power to move, so if you would like to find out about upcoming exhibitions, more about the process, or even to donate your body to the Institute of Plastination upon your death (chirpy way to end the post!) check out his website.


  1. its so interesting, i have always watched his programme and as wierd as it is, would quite like to see the exhibition, like you say, its not often you see the body like that, especially when it was once breathing!! I have never seen the animals before though.

  2. I saw the exhibit when it came to Calgary and was blown away---absolutely incredible what a design and machine the human body is, and the details are perfect for art "translations"

  3. very beautiful and amazing! i would like a picture of my body with no skin! im sure that is possible without killing me!?!

  4. Thank You for your comments. I am pleased to see other people inspired by this amazing exhibit. Gunther truly is a genius!

  5. I met Gunther at the Cheltenham Science Festival a few years ago. He was so nice and, unlike other scientific celebrities, wasn't too big to say hello in the street a few days after his talk. He was on a debating panel with Robert Winston, who disapproved of his methods. I thought Gunther made his point about educating through his exhibitions very well. As an aside, he wears that black hat as a homage to the anatomists of the past.