A quick warning to the squeamish – if you’ve not seen the posters around Newcastle, or seen this exhibition elsewhere, some of the photos in this post may not come across as pleasant. A couple of years ago, I visited the Body Works exhibition at the Centre for Life, and although not exactly keen on blood and human organs, I was intrigued, and ended up finding it fascinating, if a little off-putting. There was always the little voice at the back of my mind thinking: this was somebody’s parent / sibling / child / friend / partner.
Animals though, are a different matter. I am, of course, entirely against any form of animal cruelty, but the disclaimer at the start of the exhibition clearly states that animals were sourced through humane ways (natural deaths at zoos etc.), and none were killed purely for the ‘entertainment’ value of the exhibition.
I’m so glad I went. Being instantly greeted by a dog leaping up for a Frisbee was initially an odd sight, but then the mild discomfort vanished, and was replaced with amazement. Each exhibit comes with a clearly-labelled diagram, outlining the parts of the body on display, and there were several comparative diagrams, showing that, especially where mammals are concerned, we’re all the same inside. My writer’s brain was fizzing away with ideas about poems I would love to write on the idea, and the exhibitions, but the scientist in me, I’m sad to say, shut the writer down for a couple of hours.
The other difference between the human and animal exhibitions is that you’re allowed to take photos of the animals (as long as you avoid the single human display, shown next to the gorilla, to show just how similar we are). I found the shark fascinating – there wasn’t quite as much of the inner workings on show as there was for some of the mammals, but even so, seeing the species in such a manner was brilliant.
Still, it really was the mammals which drew me in the most. I was lucky enough at one point to be standing next to somebody who was clearly medically-trained, as she was pointing out to her companion the same bones in a horse and human skeleton, and how they were essentially the same, just tilted one way or another, and how they moved against each other.
Seeing the bear, standing up on his rear legs, was also a bit of a shock to the system. Clearly, seeing the familiar internal organs was interesting, but even though I’ve watched bears hunting salmon on film dozens, if not hundreds of times, seeing one for real, so close up, was frankly terrifying. I think that was one of the things the exhibition really did bring home – just how large some of these animals are, especially ones you think you know the scale of, like the elephant or giraffe. It’s a great way to demonstrate why these animals demand and deserve our respect – one swipe of a bear’s claw, with intent behind it, and that’s it. Winnie-the-Pooh, they are not…
Perhaps my favourite exhibit of the whole display though, were the reindeers. There’s something especially odd about seeing an animal which represents so clearly a major festive period for me. And even though they aren’t reindeer, I love the stag motif, and have almost every representation of the animal I’ve ever found in my living room. So to see them almost literally ‘stripped back’, was bizarre. And also got me thinking about an alternative Christmas card.
Friends, you have been warned…