MONTREAL -- The Montreal Science Centre brings new meaning to the song, "I've got you under my skin."

Its latest exhibition, "Body Worlds 2," explores the world of body preservation through plastination, a technique invented by German professor and anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens. It's a sensational cadaver-filled curiosity shop that is sometimes controversial, but always fascinating.

"Plastination is the process of extracting all bodily fluids and soluble fat from specimens, replacing them through vacuum forced impregnation with reactive resins and elastomers, and then curing them with light, heat, or certain gases, which give the specimens rigidity and permanence," say the press release. In other words, the bodies and parts resemble colorful sturdy plastic.

But the exhibit does come with a disclaimer that suggests the show is not for young children. Nor is it for the faint of heart -- a number of which are on display. There is sexual explicitness in the form of male penises and female nipples.

The exhibit also comes with controversy. Critics have called the show disrespectful to the dead, even when the body was willingly donated. The questionability of a cadaver as a work of art also comes into light. The high cost of admission -- a $25 entry fee at the science centre -- has also garnered grumbles. But that hasn't stopped an audience of more than 20 million people who have visited the von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibits worldwide.

Add to that some 8,000 people who have donated their bodies to the plastination cause -- forms are available at the show.

The exhibition eases you into the world of plastinated bodies with more familiar parts like bones, skulls and full skeletons. None of the bodies come with skin. All of the body parts come with an explanation of organ function. It was interesting to see the likes of a knee or hip complete with a shiny metal replacement or a heart with an artificial valve.

It doesn't take long for full-size bodies to appear in a number of candid positions like a baseball player in dramatic home run-caliber swing, a man at leisure who had six toes, or a female yoga student posed in a backward stretch. There are 20 full size bodies displayed.

Some seem a bit more graphic, like the ski jumper whose skis -- and head -- are dissected in two, or another body that is vertically sliced some 10 times. But always, the eyes appear clear and lucid as if it were the day they were born.

The most beautiful specimen is "The Exploded Body." But it's not what you think. Each body part is hung from a wire above and spaced or overlapped just enough to show where each organ should be positioned on a normal body. It's a stunning work of art.

A displayed video shows von Hagens with his team at work -- all wearing blue surgical coats with von Hagens in his trademark black hat. It looks something out of a mad sci-fi film. But in fact, von Hagens was actually quite delightful and candid at the press conference, along with his wife, Dr. Angelina Whalley.

"Body Worlds was born out of the grand tradition of aesthetic and scientific anatomy of the renaissance era inspired by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo," Whalley said.

Whalley adds that as a trained physician, she always hoped to cure patients one by one.

"But Body Worlds helps me practice medicine, preventive medicine, in a different dimension."

She adds that if a teenager quits smoking after seeing a blackened lung, or another seeks pre-natal care after viewing the plastinated woman with exposed womb, then she has done her job well.

"I want to open the hearts of people to themselves," said von Hagens a bit later in the press conference. "And we can only do this by aesthetics. Only then we can realize we are beautiful not only skin deep."

Von Hagens, who has donated his own body to his Body Worlds project, and who calls himself "a scientist that embraces art," says he wants people "to change their body picture."

"I want to make them aware that in their life cycle, the body has a memory," he said. "It is worthwhile to lead a healthy life, and to show how that healthy life will reward the body."

While we've heard that sentiment many times before, we never have seen the body quite like this.

"Body Worlds 2" continues until Sept. 16.

The Montreal Science Centre is at the King Edward Pier in Old Montreal near St. Laurent Blvd. and de la Commune Street. Admission costs $25 for adults, $22 for seniors and teens 13 to 17, and $14.50 for children 4 to 12. Hours are daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Recommended for children 10 and over. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Advance ticket purchase by phone costs an extra $2. Call (514) 496-4724 or (877) 496-4724. Also visit www.montrealsciencecentre.com and www.bodyworlds.com.

writeonbetty@sympatico.ca

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