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Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009
Human bodies shown in gory detail
By Scott Faulkner
BBC Birmingham

A body

Visitors to Birmingham's Bodies Revealed exhibition may recall Hamlet's words, "What a piece of work is man".

Some might substitute 'work' for 'meat' at the sight of corpses preserved and dissected for the public's edification.

Many of the 'specimens' on show at the Custard Factory look like they could jolt into life and tear at your flesh like Clive Barker's pinhead demon.

The exhibition, featuring 10 bodies with internal organs exposed, and 250 body parts, runs until 30 January.

With muscles, tissue and organs coloured for anatomical understanding, the 'subjects' are the human embodiment of a car workshop manual illustration.

In an eerie twist some of have been dissected in vivid athletic poses and displayed out in the open; one grips a golf club as though admiring a well-placed approach shot.

A preserved  foetus
One of several foetuses shown in various stages of growth

If the nine-iron were a cutlass you could imagine this dissected golfer attacking you like skeleton soldier in Jason and the Argonauts.

Another man clasps a basketball as though faking a pass, yet despite the exposed organs it's the subject's soulless eyes that many who see the exhibition will remember.

Dodging exercise

If that's not gruesome enough, there are a further 250 body parts on display in glass cases, including foetuses in various stages of growth.

All of the elements of the human body are carved into view, allowing a glimpse at a person's skeletal, muscular, reproductive, respiratory and circulatory systems.

The educational impact of this exhibition is immeasurable
Dr Roy Glover

The subjects' muscles and body parts are painted in different shades to distinguish them, which also has the effect of making the people appear more 'otherworldly'.

Other organs such as the heart are pebble grey because there's no blood present.

And the real-life horror of how we often abuse our bodies and organs by over-eating and dodging exercise is another feature of the exhibition, which includes a comparison between a healthy lung and one ravaged by smoking.

Inner workings

An empty exhibit box next to the lungs with a cigarette packet-sized slot in the top is for 'converts' to dispose of their boxes.

"The educational impact of this exhibition is immeasurable," says Dr Roy Glover, anatomist and the exhibition's chief medical director.

"For centuries, the medical community has learned about the inner workings of the human body through the study of real human bodies.

"Now it is possible for the public to gain an intimate knowledge as well."

Dr Roy Glover and one of the specimens
Ten people from China allowed their bodies to be exhibited

The 68-year-old from Michigan was not physically involved in the dissection of the bodies as this was carried out by a partner organisation in China, but says he oversaw the work via a computer link showing digital images.

He dismisses concerns about public taste and decency by saying "nobody's arm is twisted" and claims more than 500,000 children have already visited the exhibition on its tour of the world, including his own grandchildren.

He even says he'd allow his own body to be exhibited after his death.

Vacuum chamber

Organisers say anatomists use a polymer preservation process to preserve the specimens, preventing the natural decay process as the human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber.

They say all water is removed from a specimen by replacing it with acetone and the body placed into a liquid silicone mixture within a vacuum chamber. Under vacuum, the acetone becomes a gas that is completely replaced by the polymer mixture and then the silicone polymer is hardened.

Preparation times vary; a small organ may take only a week, while a full-body may take up to one year to prepare.

A specimen
A stripped corpse in a gymnastics beam pose

"The end result is a dry, odourless, permanently preserved body containing no toxic chemicals," adds a Bodies Revealed spokesman.

"It retains the look of the original, but functions as if it were rubber.

"All of the bodies and organ specimens in Bodies Revealed came from individuals who died from natural causes and chose to donate their bodies to accredited medical universities in the People's Republic of China.

"When the Bodies Revealed exhibition ends, all specimens will be returned for cremation."

The brain is said to be the most difficult organ to preserve as it is primarily composed of lipids (fat) and water.

During the process of polymer preservation, it can shrink significantly during dehydration and to manage this problem, it's dehydrated in a cold acetone to maintain its original size and shape.

Bodies Revealed is open every day except Monday and organisers recommend children attend the exhibition with a teacher or parent as an adult guide.

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