Corpses on Congress

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The Downtown Tucson Partnership has a big announcement next Tuesday about the future of the the Rialto building that surrounds the Rialto Theatre.

We hear the display—being billed as a "world-class scientific exhibition"—is one of those shows of posed dead bodies.

Our alternative brethren up in Seattle review one of the shows:

The first thing you notice: eerie, sleek, air-lock cleanliness. Bodies: The Exhibition being an emporium of dissected dead people, I expected cots and canvas, a triage tent with bloodstains and tears. I couldn't believe how many couples were on dates. An exhibition of dead bodies, apparently, is a romantic hot spot. I brought beef jerky.

The bodies on display are small and svelte, skinless, and Asian. Muscles and bones. Cross sections of neatly carved-up torsos. Wet- looking lungs and hearts. Kidneys, intestines, and dangling balls. Lots of balls. Bodies is a ball fest. Also: penises. One body is flayed into two parts—its skeleton holding hands with its muscular system (ball area included) in a macabre eternal jig. Even more unsettling were the eyelashes. Tiny, delicate fringes, so alive, so familiar, guarding soulless, piercing glass eyes. The eyelashes made the bodies look like they were about to say something. Something like "Stop staring at my balls."

There is a hands-on station where you can hold an actual human brain. A brain. From the head of a human. "Look at it!" my friend said, aghast and kind of sad, turning the brain over and over in her hands. "It's all full of memories!" Ethics and rumors and controversy aside, seeing these formerly alive humans up close, and understanding the scientific process behind preserving and displaying them, is undeniably fascinating. The "specimens" are dissected, dunked in acetone, placed in a large bath of silicone polymer, and then sealed in a vacuum chamber. Basically, they turn from flesh into plastic and will never decay. From the Bodies website: "All the bodies were obtained through the Dalian Medical University Plastination Laboratories in the People's Republic of China. Asia possesses the largest and most highly competent group of dissectors in the world, and they are highly skilled in preparing the bodies for educational and scientific purposes."

The official word from Bodies: The Exhibition is that these people died from "natural causes." They say the law doesn't allow them to disclose information about identity or cause of death. Nothing at the exhibit clearly addresses any of the torture rumors (floated by people like New York's attorney general Andrew Cuomo: "The grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China"). You'd think the whole thing would be one giant disclaimer.

We're sure that there are nicer reviews out there.

Given the news that Downtown Tucson Partnership honcho Glenn Lyons has realized that it's time to walk before they make him run from Tucson, let's hope that the exhibit is an exciting new addition to downtown and not just a super-creepy metaphor.

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