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A closeup look ’Real Bodies’ and what it means to be human at CT Science Center

A closeup look ’Real Bodies’ and what it means to be human at CT Science Center
The "Real Bodies" exhibit at the Connecticut Science Center adds a philosophical look at what it means to be human. (Imagine Exhibitions / HANDOUT)

The latest traveling exhibit at Connecticut Science Center in Hartford titled “Real Bodies” shows in full detail the inner workings of humans.

At first glance, the exhibit looks quite similar to the “Bodies Revealed” show that the center exhibited in 2013 and 2014 that also put real human bodies on display. But rather than being purely scientific, the show’s wall text is philosophical, at times even poetic, ruminations on what it means to be a human.

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“The full body specimens and the individual organs tell an amazing story and it’s easy to set them up in a systematic way,” says Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, Inc., which produced the traveling show. “But what does our body mean to us? The story is bigger than just the actual physical and chemical reactions that take place in the body. I thought it was spiritual in nature.”

The exhibit even has a section called “Love,” though that concept is not scientifically quantifiable. Zaller uses the segment on the reproductive system to approach the subject.

“Most of the time when humans reproduce, it’s because they’re choosing to. There is a physical and emotional connection you share with somebody,” Zaller says. “I don’t know about animals but having love to share is an important and huge part of life.”

Let’s walk through all the categories of the exhibit.

ANATOMIST’S STUDY

The skeletal system, whole and in parts, is exhibited in antique wood-and-glass display cases. We learn that human dissection used to be a crime, because souls needed their bodies in the afterlife. But curious people did it anyway on the sly, including Leonardo da Vinci, who wanted to perfect his knowledge of anatomy. When it was discovered that dissecting bodies led to medical discoveries, the taboo was lifted.

BREATHE

The respiratory system is the focus of this bay of the exhibit. It features a full body, lungs, a larynx, a trachea. One of the lungs is healthy, and another, black and bloated, is the lung of a cigarette smoker. A wall of box fans pushes air into the exhibit bay, illustrating the power of air moving back and forth. Near the fans is a fact: The volume of air you breathe each day can fill approximately seven hot air balloons.

To show the muscular system, one human specimen has been taken apart, and his skeleton holds hands with his muscular structure
To show the muscular system, one human specimen has been taken apart, and his skeleton holds hands with his muscular structure (Imagine Exhibitions / HANDOUT)
MOVE

To show the muscular system, one human specimen has been taken apart, and his skeleton holds hands with his muscular structure. The shock of that sight is soothed by the text next to it:

“Every move we make defines us. With no effort, the muscles move us through the day and never say a word. Their language is the unspoken reality of now. … We are the actors, puppet and puppeteer, in this little play called life.”

HUNGER

The digestive system is the bodily function people think of most often, because it’s about food.

“We can take the air we breathe for granted because breathing is an automatic response,” the text reads, “hunger, however, requires our action.”

A wall diagram tells the story of the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. That prehistoric artist was also fixated on eating, as he depicted a man hunting for food.

RHYTHM

The circulatory system gives rhythm to our bodily functions, with the beating of the heart and blood flowing through veins. This spectacular segment features specimens of a full human system of arteries and capillaries, as well as a poem:

“Rhythm is breath and step. It defines the day, the seasons, the year. We create and honor the rhythms of celebration: mealtime, TGIF, harvests, birth, marriage, death.”

The exhibit will be at the science center through June 30.
The exhibit will be at the science center through June 30. (Imagine Exhibitions / HANDOUT)
THINK

The nervous system turns humans from living creatures to thinking creatures, who can formulate ideas and feel pain. Alexandra Jones, a docent who studies physical therapy at UConn, describes a full specimen of the brain and nerves:

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“It’s amazing to think that everything that makes you you is right here, your emotions, the pain you feel, tickles, hugs, all that goes through the nervous system.”

DEATH

An unforgettable part of the exhibit is a re-creation of an ossuary — a storage place for corpses — modeled after the Paris catacombs, where 6 million people are buried. The arrangements of skulls and bones (all artificial) illustrate one of the myriad ways people have coped with death. Koreans turned remains into beads. In Ghana, dead are buried in fantasy coffins. And in New Orleans, funerals feature jazz music.

LOVE

Specimens of the reproductive system — male and female — are in the gallery with a large red sculpture of a heart. Visitors are asked to write a love note and attach it to the sculpture with tiny locks that are handed out. The wall text muses on love:

“Alone, we are a heap of bone and blood … but here, wrapped in the mystery of this connection, hunger and poverty fall away – for here, we are truly known.”

BEGINNINGS

The door of this bay has a warning label, as some may not want to see it. Embryonic and fetal specimens show the growth of babies inside bodies, at five, six, seven, eight, nine, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 30 weeks. A poem honors the process of gestation and birth:

“In mother’s womb, embryo grows into fetus before pushing the world’s door open to play the game again, continuing traditions or creating new ones.”

REPAIR

Is immortality possible? Some scientists think it is. This segment is about medical breakthroughs that extend and enhance life. A fascinating structure shows real anatomical specimens, sliced razor-thin and arranged in the shape of a human to illustrate the possibilities of contemporary science. But still, there is a humanistic element to the science, as the wall reads:

“It is not lightly that we say Take Care.”

REAL BODIES is at Connecticut Science Center, 250 Columbus Blvd. in Hartford, until June 30. Entrance is included with general admission.; $16.95 for kids, $23.95 for adults; $21.95 for 65 and older; free for members. ctsciencecenter.org.

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.

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