Picture the scene. It’s Easter Sunday and tucked away deep in the depths of television scheduling sits a programme aptly named Crucifixion. Apt, you might think, after all it’s Easter Sunday and we’ve come to expect a programme or two about Jesus’ demise; but this was no ordinary foray into mono-theistic doctrine, this was Gunther Von Hagens.
If you haven’t heard of or seen Von Hangens’s work, let me briefly explain what it entails and what you should expect. Von Hagens created a technique called ‘Plastination’; this technique allows him to remove and replace with plastic, dead organic tissue. Yes, dead and organic does mean; human, animal or indeed vegetable. Gunther found fame in the early 21st century when he ‘Plastinated’ the remains of human body donors and embarked on an exhibition called “Bodyworlds” or in his native German “Korperwelten”.
Macabre, you might think, and some would agree but for me it’s fascinating and educational, it allows us to see inside ourselves as never before and allows us to understand what we’re made of. There’s something incredible about seeing the course a blood vessel takes as it meanders and courses through your body in a fantastic evolutionary path. Von Hagens has over the past ten years or so has ‘Plastinated’ hundreds or specimens, charting our evolution in a style which has become a form of art. He has also applied his technique to animals such as; gorillas, elephants and even a giraffe, as you can imagine it’s become as much entertainment as it has art, but personally, the biological aspect is one I’m keen to keep.
In recent times, with his work becoming art as much as a look into ourselves and other organisms, Gunther has faced and created much criticism; it seems sometimes he is out to shock rather than provoke debate or provide a look at ourselves, it seems that ‘Crucifixion’ his latest work was more about creating a storm rather than allowing us a scientific view of life.
The brief for the project was to create a realistic crucified image, but here’s the kicker; using real ‘Plastinated’ human remains, now on paper that sounds great to an atheist like me, but in reality it was also going to cause a huge amount of anger and criticism focussed on Gunther, especially from those who believe in God and the story of Jesus. I have no issue whatsoever with Gunther’s project, it was interesting to watch him create something that was shockingly beautiful and ultimately something that showed the struggle between life and death.
However, my first thoughts on the programme and Gunther’s idea was that he was intentionally trying to piss the church and it’s followers off. Careful now. I have no issue with pissing off the church, I’ve done it enough with this very blog in the past, I do have issue with setting out with the intention to piss them off. Oftentimes, especially here, it’s easy to get caught in the moment when you write so that your words can become harmful to a certain group of people, we however, don’t hold the moral high ground and certainly don’t intentionally set out to piss you off.
It’s easy to see that Gunther – a confirmed atheist like myself – wanted to do something which he’d wanted to do for a long time, whether this is making a protest or fulfilling some form of ego boost that he may get from controversy, but also a portrait of a man who knows his own mortality and is dying. We discovered that Gunther is dying. He has Parkinsons disease and is rapidly deteriorating, it was upsetting to see him struggle to walk, talk and use his dexterity which he is so famed for. There is too much we can say about Gunther, and I don’t wish to turn this into an obituary before it’s time.
I think however, we must pose a single question. Would he have done this project if he wasn’t dying? I think so. I believe that Gunther would have always created his own Jesus, one day sooner or later, I do feel that the reason it was done is because it was his last wish, his last stand and his very own creation story.