Monday 12 October 2009

The Quick and the Really Dead - Two Toronto October Media Events

Nuit Blanche - Yorkville gallery hires artist to body paint muscles on a living model. At Ontario Science Centre it's Body Worlds 3 exhibition strips skin and exposes muscles of dead models.

FINAL: Two Toronto media events held in early October are strangely linked by the body's muscles and vital organs. A trendy Toronto art gallery paints them on a living model, while at the Ontario Science a traveling exhibition shows bodies with their skin removed, their muscles exposed and vital organs dangling from partial removed spinal cords.
Scotiabank Nuit Blanche was held October 3rd, sunset to sunrise in downtown Toronto.
The city's fourth annual Nuit Blanche engaged audiences in a massive participatory celebration of contemporary art.
Two days prior the media was invited to attend a launch at Scotiabank's main branch for the massive art event. Reporters were given an extensive press kit which highlighted some of the more newsworthy "art" happenings that were to take place during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. One that caught my eye was an entry about the Liss Gallery in the Yorkville Art Gallery District.
Mini-Digital Camera in hand I dropped by the gallery after midnight to watch Canada's edgiest new artist; Jonathon Ball, spray painting the bodies of a man and a woman, both who had the physique of bodybuilders.
Ball painstakingly painted the man to look like his skin had been removed and his muscles,bones and organs were exposed to the air. It was a marvelous exercise in ultra-realism x-ray art. Over the course of an hour about 100 people stopped to gawk. I was the only "media" taking pictures. The gallery was happy for the traffic and were not slighted that the press took a pass on their midnight paint-in.
Five days later I found myself attending another media event again involving exposed muscles and organs. The Ontario Science Centre held a press preview of Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS 3: THE STORY OF THE HEART. exhibition.
This is the second time that a Gunter von Hagen exhibition of sliced, diced and splayed bodies has come to Toronto's Science Centre. Three years ago the show was so popular that the building stayed open 24-hours a day, throughout the last weekend of the exhibition's run.
I attended the first exhibition and came out again to this month's press launch. It is a different show this year and received a much different response from the reporters.
Yes there are more than 200 authentic human specimens on display, including entire exposed bodies, as well as individual organs and transparent body slices. There is also a giraffe, thinly sliced from the tip of its head to its hooves, in the show.
This time the popular exhibition (it has been seen by over 26-million people) strips back the flesh and muscle and looks at the human heart to show the effects of healthy lifestyle choices.
The first time Body Worlds came to Toronto the exhibition was quite controversial(parts of the show were banned this year in Cologne). The Ontario Science Centre was accused of exhibiting desecrated bodies simply to make money. The negative comments didn't hurt the science museum, it was one of the most successful exhibitions in their 40-year history.
This time around the Ontario Science Centre went to great pains to explain that Body Worlds 2 meets the Science Centre’s mission: “To delight, inform and challenge visitors through engaging and thought-provoking experiences in science and technology.” Gunther von Hagens’surgeon wife, Dr. Angelina Whalley came from Germany to speak at the media preview lecturing that all of the bodies on display were self-donations. The willing donors, most of them German (70 Canadians have already agreed to donate their bodies) were aware that their bodies would be stripped of skin, treated in plastic and twisted into life-like poses sans flesh to entertain and educated the masses.
Judging from the reaction to the overflow media crowd (more attended this year than at the September 2005 launch), the explanations were unnecessary. The press understood what the show is all about. So did a group of students who also attended the media scrum - their questions during wrap-up Q&A were not about outrage or sacrilegious money making displays, or concerning indignities to the body, but instead were technical in nature - How Long Does It Take? Do family members know that their mothers and fathers are on display?
So the city "gets it". The media still see it as a newsworthy show. I got "it" too, and I think that it should be compulsory viewing for science student in the province to see BodyWorlds 2 (you will never smoke again after seeing an exposed smoker's lung)here in Toronto.
What has me scratching my head (with the skin still intact thank-you) is why was there no media turn-out for a living BodyWorlds style model standing in the window of a Yorkville gallery? Yet, there was a gaggle of photographers and reporters to on hand to see a display showing two skinless acrobats holding each other while their spines and vital organs are dangling out of their backs? In Yorkville the inner workings of the body were being exposed by a very talented Canadian artist working with two models who have also been sculpting their form for years. No one died to make this exhibit happen.
At Body Worlds 3, the dissection of human bodies has become a major industry encompassing body harvesting, an Asian preparation factory and an aggressive German touring exhibition company which has already presented similar Body Worlds exhibitions this year in Buffalo, Waterloo, London, Philadelphia,and Cologne. This time, Science beat Art - thumbs literally down.

Above: Dr. Angelina Whalley at the Ontario Science Centre podium
Liss Gallery in Yorkville (Toronto, Ontario) hired models for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche all night art celebration. This man stood in the window for an hour being body painted by Canada's edgiest new artist; Jonathon Ball.
Middle: BodyWorlds 3 female acrobat.
Bottom: Photographers and cameramen wait for the press conference start oblivous to the skinless bodies locked in a final pas de deux. The body organs have been removed from the backs of the bodies; those are brains dangling from the exposed spines. The red barrels represent how much blood a human body pumps in one day.