Invisible and Visible Technology. The Anatomist, the Corps and the Public
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Gunther von Hagens's popular 'Body Worlds' exhibition has raised a number of issues concerning not only the ethics of presenting real human cadavers in public spaces, but also the question of whether the work of anatomical preparations is art or science. The author compares the work of this modern anatomist with that of his eighteenth-century forebear, Honoré Fragonard. While both anatomists share the virtuosity that is the hallmark of the successful showman or teacher, the two centuries that separate them give very different meanings to their preparations. Fragonard operated in a society where scientific spectacle was a leisure activity for the well-to-do, as well as a teaching tool for certain professional bodies, and where death was a relatively common event to be managed by the church and the family. Von Hagens exhibits bodies in spaces unsanctioned by the medical profession, and is seen by critics to cater to the profane, offering titillation under the guise of education to those who encounter death constantly in the media but rarely outside. Thus, although they are both composed of human anatomical preparations, the author argues that von Hagens's and Fragonard's collections are as different from one another as our modern medicalized, high-tech. society is from French society in the second half of the eighteenth century.
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