Calgary

Under the skin exhibit goes beyond people into animal kingdom

Not satisfied with merely pulling the skin back on humans, an exhibit opening in Calgary’s Telus Spark this week is going into the wild, to bring viewers a perspective of animals they probably won’t find anywhere else.

'We are all flesh and bone, not only humans but all animals,' curator says

Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out opens Friday at Telus Spark. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Not satisfied with merely pulling the skin back on humans, an exhibit opening at Calgary's Telus Spark this week is going into the wild, to bring viewers a perspective of animals they probably won't find anywhere else.

"He didn't know where the journey would go," curator Dr. Angelina Whalley said of her husband's 1977 discovery.

"The technology was meant for teaching anatomy. Later he figured out there was a huge interest from the public."

Whalley is talking about plastination, the process developed 42 years ago and since mastered by her partner Gunther von Hagens.

Dr. Angelina Whalley is the curator of the Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out. Her partner, Gunther von Hagens, created the process the exhibit is based on. It's called plastination. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

For many years, the exhibitions featured the human body in all of its mystery. More recently, animals have been added to the mix.

"We are all flesh and bone, not only humans but all animals," Whalley said.

"It unveils all the beauty of the interior, the muscle, nerves, organs and telling the story of what life is about. The exhibition is really on life, not on dead animals."

Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out moves the process of plastination beyond human specimens. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

She says no animals were killed for the exhibit, rather Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out works with zoos, animal and veterinary programs, mostly from Europe to get their specimens.

The process of developing a single specimen isn't quick. A human takes between 1,500 hours and a year. Animals can take a lot longer.

"Our giraffe took more than two years," she said.

Specimens can take up to two years to get ready for the exhibit. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Plastination involves replacing the moisture or water in a specimen with a polymer, but water and polymer don't mix so there's a step in between.

"A volatile solvent like acetone," Whalley said.

"When you apply a vacuum, the acetone evaporates, it just bubbles out. This creates a pressure inside the specimen. It soaks the polymers into just those areas where the acetone was. This is the core step of plastination called forced impregnation. It takes a couple of weeks depending on the size."

Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out opens Friday at Telus Spark. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The polymer is then cured with a special gas. Whalley said the first complete human body went on display in 1992, and now millions around the world have seen some variation of the exhibit.

"It is so rewarding to see people around the world being inspired, having a completely different view on nature," she said.

"Nature is so rich. There are still so many things that could be plastinated."

Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out opens Friday at Telus Spark.

Body Worlds Animals Inside Out exhibit 1:43

With files from Monty Kruger

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