Ten days ago or so, taking the Q subway across the Manhattan bridge, with sudden, momentary night views of the Brooklyn Bridge festooned with yellow lights opening up through the windows of one side of the car, I noticed a row of ads for “Bodies: the Exhibition”. “Twenty human specimens, 200 organs and over 2000 fascinating facts about the body”, it trumpeted. The ads show a body / corpse of Sino-origin, eyes open, arm tendons extended in a kind of lunge, surreally, literally, playing beach volleyball. Meat and muscle, fibia and tibia exposed, ligaments doing their thing. This exhibition is travelling the world “under franchise”, most probably in most of the capitals of the Western world, and the Dubais and Singapores of the East at this moment. It is interesting just how many of these “specimens” are young, healthy people, suspiciously of Chinese extraction. China, of course, has a surfeit, a wealth of “excess” population, and the Communist Party is well known for continuing the Emperors’ disregard for their subjects. In this, at least, there is historical continuity. How many young, apparently healthy men and women, executed by a single pistol shot to the base of the skull, are now touring the world like reheated victims of Sachenhausen? One must be careful in these kind of comparisons, of course, but if what commuters are tiredly, idly looking at as they travel home from work is indeed the commodification of the executed victims of state terror sold on to the West as an exhibition, humanity-as-product, then the implications are, at the very least, sinister and disturbing.
A footnote to the ad reads: “Premier cannot independently verify the provenance of the human remains in this exhibit.”