Culture & Conversation

Beneath The Body Beautiful

Beautiful is not the first word that pops into most people’s mind when they think about the circulatory system, but after seeing Arteries of the Trunk on display at Bodies: The Exhibition (Centre d’Exposition de Montréal, Eaton Centre), many will think it’s apt. Meticulously dissected and preserved, this specimen shows the many blood vessels that are present in a person’s mid-section. Despite not having any bones or connective tissue, the torso shape is unmistakeable in this dazzling and dangling array of red branches.

The exhibit is comprised of several rooms and largely organized by system: skeletal, muscular, respiratory, etc. Some pieces are kept under glass and often have explanatory placards, while others are stand-alone figures that have no barrier between them and the viewer.

The show is famous for its full-body models that have been placed in action poses. The Montreal installation has ones that are kicking a soccer ball, diving for a volleyball and playing tennis. You can see the many muscles, tendons and bones tensed in position and some sections of the exterior muscle wall are removed to give a window into what’s going on closer to the body’s core.

There are also many interesting side-by-side comparisons to see, such as a whale scapula versus a human one, normal versus enlarged spleen and a healthy lung versus a smoker’s lung (there’s even a separate case where you can throw out your cigarette packs if this last example should prompt a change in habits). Stunning sagittal body cross-sections can also be seen throughout the show. These glassy slices are reminiscent of geodes and do a remarkable job of showing the relative positions of the body’s organs as well as demonstrating how blood diffuses in the brain during a stroke.

The walls are covered with many interesting facts: Babies have 300 bones and adults have 206; the brain requires 20% of the body’s total blood supply; after conception, everyone spends one half-hour as a single cell. And for those who are a little bit adventurous, there is a Touch Station where you can hold a real specimen of a lung, liver or the like.

The show has received mixed reviews from audiences worldwide. It has been called creepy, gross and indecent. Some cities have closed or banned the exhibit entirely. But the show doesn’t appear to be the macabre money grab that some have described. The displays are presented in a manner that seeks to educate people about their bodies and is based on a “to see it is to know” principle, which the exhibit points out has been a driving force in the history of anatomy.

And seeing really is astonishing in certain cases. The circulatory system display employs a darker lighting scheme that makes the blue and white Bronchial Tree and Pulmonary Arteries really stand out and look like coral. Seeing the many muscles of the foot might make you rethink wearing bad shoes. Plus, the amount of intestines we manage to pack inside our abdomen is really impressive.

This up close and personal look at what lies beneath our skin may not appeal to some, but for those who are interested, it is an incredible opportunity to get to know what is pulsing beneath the surface.

The exhibit runs until January 15. Open Monday to Wednesday, 10 am to 9 pm, Thursday to Sunday, 9 am to 10 pm. For more details and online ticket ordering, visit the site.

  • 3 Responses to “Beneath The Body Beautiful”

    1. Leila

      Hmm, this review might actually get me out there, thanks.
      And thanks for “sagittal” – what a weird and awesome word.

    2. Zeke


      I’d suggest asking them if they got permission to use the bodies before going to see the show. As far as I know they didn’t ask and they don’t have permission. The bodies are those of dead Chinese prisoners, bought and sold like sides of beef.

    3. Jen Fletcher

      Did not Leonardo da Vinci use dead bodies to find out what was beneath their surface in order to better create his masterpieces ?And is not what was & is revealed quite amazing?
      And is not "a side of beef" the mutilated part of the dead body of another living creature, that we buy …..and eat?


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