We hated Bodyworlds. Really, really hated it.
First of all, it was the cheap shoddiness that rankled. The plinths were made from ordinary house bricks, roughly shoved together. The signs were bits of folded paper, printed off from MS Word and shoved under perspex. Overhead fluorescent strip lighting. Potted houseplants plonked down to form dividers. Filthy, smelly toilets: flooded, missing their seats, and covered in obscene graffiti. For a tenner a ticket, you would have expected some degree of care and attention. As it was, there was absolutely no aesthetic sensibility at work whatsoever.
The further we went round the exhibition, the more we were struck by the underlying disingenuousness of its intentions. This was neither art, nor science, nor education – merely spectacle. A grotesque spectacle, which betrayed an arrogant disregard for the humanity of its “plastinates”. There was no back story on these corpses – not even the scantest of details on their backgrounds, their nationalities, or even the circumstances of their deaths. Instead, their plastinated body parts had been snipped, stretched, mangled and contorted into pieces of breathtakingly tasteless whimsy.
Here: a corpse riding a bicycle, a ludicrous pair of spectacles perched on its nose. There: a leering warlock on a broomstick, in a stupid hat. A “basketball player” – a “goalkeeper” – a “swimmer” – and most notably of all, a “pole vaulter”. The pole vaulter was suspended upside down on a steel pole, well above head height. His entire gut system had comically “fallen out” of its torso, and had slid down the pole to eye level. People were actually standing round and chuckling at the gag.
In another room, a plastinate was kneeling in front of a makeshift altar, its facial features arranged into a crude caricature of beseeching piety, holding up a human heart on a tacky velvet plinth. The accompanying sign said: “In Memory Of All Our Donors”. Anger and disgust rose up inside us like bile.
There was worse to come, in the form of a woman in the eighth month of pregnancy, her womb slit open to show the almost fully developed foetus still curled up inside her. Astonishingly – unforgiveably – she had been arranged in a semi-recumbent, coquettish pose: turned on her side towards the viewer, her head propped up on one elbow, her lips artificially reddened and pouting, her pale, rubbery nipples crudely stuck back onto her plastinated breasts. Tragedy reduced to burlesque.
She was the sole adult female plastinate in the entire exhibition. Adjacent to her were a series of deformed foetuses in specimen jars: cleft palates, misshapen skulls, conjoined at the hip. We hurried past them as quickly as we could.
Before leaving, we scanned the comments books. Apart from the occasional gripe about the state of the toilets, there was almost nothing but fulsome praise for the show. Fascinating…educational…an amazing experience…didn’t feel squeamish in the slightest…wish I had brought my family with me…cool!…awesome!…wicked! Baffled and incredulous, we flicked through page after page, searching in vain for a dissenting view.
God knows, I have no religious axe to grind here. Neither does the idea of placing a naked corpse on public display offend me per se, so long as the donor has given their full consent. But did these people really know that they would end up like this? As utterly dehumanised objects of curiosity in a highly profitable modern day freak show, carted around from city to city by an egocentric self-publicist with deluded pretensions to high-minded scholarship?
Sigh. Whatever. Four fantastic exhibtions and one dud, then…
…but at least this means we can grab a decent curry on Brick Lane, before catching the 19:55 back to Nottingham. They’re all unlicensed, so K nips to the offy for a couple of large bottles of Indian beer. He has never had the Brick Lane experience before, and is delighted with it. We spend a pleasant 45 minutes or so, noshing and critiquing. The day has gone awfully well. A perfect blend of pre-planning and spontaneity. We should do this much more often.
I had never brokered a blind date before. But in my head, they seemed quite well matched. And A liked my photos of B. And B saw A’s profile, and recognised him. And I wasn’t on hand to effect a proper introduction – all those gigs, all that art. And so numbers were passed, and phone calls made, and a rendezvous arranged.
And now here they both are, a day and a night later, drinking tea in the cottage in front of the fire, beaming at us, beaming at each other, and I am feeling so benevolent, and just so goddammed pleased with myself.
Before breakfast, before a proper wash, before conversation, before the seven o’clock headlines…as dawn breaks over Carsington Water, DJ Shadow is just the ticket. Abstract, moody atmospherics for a freezing Monday morning. As we hurtle back to town to beat the traffic, I give thanks for heated seating, and begin to unclench a little.
So I was thinking about this site over the weekend, and what I wanted to do with it, and whether I had already achieved everything that could reasonably be done with it, and whether I was suffering from the blogging equivalent of Second Album Syndrome, and whether I should drop it down a notch, or gear it up a notch, and what was my motivation for it these days anyway, and hadn’t I become bored of the cutesy personality cult side of things, and wasn’t it time to turn another corner, and to become less inanely pseudo-conversational and more, I dunno, “literary”…and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was time to re-commit, to stop complacently surfing on the stats, to try a little bit harder, to get my “edge” back, to get the hunger and the necessity back, to push things forwards…
…and I came into work today and got the Urgent Briefing To All Employees e-mail about possible redundancies and imminent interviews with those who are most at risk, and decisions that haven’t yet been made but will be soon…
…and all that fresh air instantly slumped out of my sails.