Institute for Plastination – Angelina Whalley and Gunther von Hagens portrait. © Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany, www.bodyworlds.com.

Interview with Karen Schüssler

Founded in 1993, the Institute for Plastination has overseen the touring programme of one of the most controversial and fascinating travelling exhibitions in the world: Body Worlds. We spoke with Director of Exhibitions and Marketing Karen Schüssler about its enduring popularity, and what the future holds for the IfP.

TEN: Can you tell us a little bit about Body Worlds and the IfP’s focus on education – both for medical professionals and the public?

Karen Schüssler: BODY WORLDS aims to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and shows the effects of poor health, good health, and lifestyle choices. It is also presented in the hopes that it will motivate visitors to learn more about the science of anatomy and physiology.

The BODY WORLDS exhibitions offer valuable insights for laymen as well as for persons with a medical background.With the Plastinarium in Guben we created the perfect environment to actively learn, understand and study plastination and anatomy. We offer courses in plastination and anatomy at various levels, including pre-med students and professionals.

TEN: The IfP Plastinarium in Guben is visited by the students and professionals you mention – what’s the relationship between the Plastinarium and these external individuals?

KS: The Plastinarium is the perfect place for professionals who are interested in anatomy and plastination courses or who are looking for surgical training, for professional development. Rather than teaching with books we are using plastinates and more practical approaches to learn anatomy.

We offer advanced levels of plastination courses for professionals who already plastinate or who are planning to open their own plastination laboratory. The plastination courses provide the basis of the process such as proper wet dissection of specimens and covers the main steps of the technique such as dehydration, vacuum forced impregnation and curing. In addition, it teaches the silicone plastination method in more detail. For experienced plastination professionals we offer customised lessons in specialised fields such as preventing shrinkage, colouring, special injection methods and more.

Furthermore our unique facilities are ideal for dissection/surgical training, medical research and medical engineering.

To date more than 40 million people visited 140 BODY WORLDS exhibitions in more than 90 cities and 20 countries, making them one of the most successful traveling exhibitions of all time.

As the leader in plastination, our range of innovative educational resources is designed to teach current and future medical and healthcare professionals. Improving the anatomical knowledge and education of future doctors is ingrained in our service and commitment to the medical and health sciences.

TEN: And what about the International Plastination Conference – what does this involve and who attends?

KS: The International Society for Plastination is a multidisciplinary organisation, including people within all fields of science interested in the technique of plastination. The International Society for Plastination was founded in 1986 in San Antonio, Texas.

Its functions are as follows:

  • Identify an international community of scientists and technologists interested in plastination
  • Compile a list of all laboratories involved in plastination, including a description of the techniques being practiced at each institute
  • Serve as a forum for the exchange of information about plastination
  • Publish the Journal of the International Society for Plastination
  • Organise and conduct meetings and workshops
  • Define plastination as an area of professional activity and provide a means of learning and practicing plastination as a career

The International Society holds an International Conference of Plastination every two years. The Institute for Plastination, as a member of the Society for many years, has hosted the Conference at our Institute in Heidelberg. More information can be found at: isp.plastination.org

TEN: Another important part of the IfP’s work is the exhibitions it puts on, can you explain what the Institute aims for with these?

KS: The primary goal of BODY WORLDS is health education. On the one hand, individual specimens are used to compare healthy and diseased organs, i.e., a healthy lung with that of a smoker, to emphasise the importance of a healthy life-style. On the other hand, life-like posed whole-body plastinates illustrate where in our bodies these organs are positioned and what we are: naturally fragile in a mechanised world.

Learn more about the plastination process:

 

Thus, the exhibitions are targeted mainly at a lay audience and open up the opportunity to better understand the human body and its functions. The exhibits remind visitors of the fragility, individuality and anatomical beauty underneath their skin.

TEN: How many exhibitions have been toured as part of the IfP’s work over the last decades?

KS: To date more than 40 million people visited 140 BODY WORLDS exhibitions in more than 90 cities and 20 countries, making them one of the most successful traveling exhibitions of all time.

Actually, there are 10 exhibitions concurrently presented in Europe and America, at this time. Most of them are touring exhibitions that change location every 3-6 months. Furthermore two exhibitions (one in Amsterdam and another in New York) are on display permanently, in Berlin, the first BODY WORLDS Museum, titled the Menschen Museum opened in February 2015.

Last but not least our Anatomical Teaching Centre in Guben, the Plastinarium, combines the moving experience of seeing a BODY WORLDS Exhibition with an opportunity to witness first-hand, and see some essential steps of the plastination process first-hand.

TEN: How do the various exhibitions that are being shown differ from each other?

KS: While all of the BODY WORLDS exhibitions focus on general anatomy revealed through Plastination, each exhibition focuses on a dedicated theme – for example cardiology and the heart, the body’s capability and vitality, human development, longevity and aging, the story of the human body in the 21st century, and the effect of happiness of the human body.

Even after 20 years of exhibition history, the fascination with the mysteries of the human body and the quest for a long, healthy life continue to exude the same magnetism as always.

The exhibitions show a multitude of brand new plastinates and offer every visitor – even the ardent BODY WORLDS visitor – a fascinating exhibition experience.

TEN: Has demand to see these kinds of exhibitions continued steadily?

KS: Even after 20 years of exhibition history and with more than 40 million visitors around the world, the fascination with the mysteries of the human body and the quest for a long, healthy life continue to exude the same magnetism as always. There is always a new audience of school children and medical professionals beginning training that maintain a high demand for the exhibition. Additionally, we have found that as our human bodies change throughout our lives, we seek new information on how new ailments or achievements in our lives might look on the inside. This never-ending curiosity is likely another reason for the continued demand for the exhibitions.

TEN: What does the future hold for the BODY WORLDS exhibitions? Will they continue to change as new technology and methods become available?

KS: Plastinates always have been and will stay the focus of the BODY WORLDS exhibitions. But since the first exhibition, more than 20 years ago, there have been some major improvements in relation to the quality of the plastinates. Especially the stability of the blood vessels has been considerably improved, which facilitates the transport and makes the plastinates more stable.

Dr Gunther von Hagens has completed vast research in the field of slice production over the recent years. This has led to very thin and precise slices of plastinates that have been very helpful in the education of orthopaedic studies.

These improvements have been achieved through the continuing refinement of the plastination process, which we hope our Institute will continue for many years to come.

» We’re pleased to welcome BODY WORLDS back as a sponsor for TEM this year, and you can read our company report here

READ MORE: www.bodyworlds.com

See conference and sponsoring information about TEM2015 here: touringexhibitions.org/sponsoring