Experiencing Body Worlds’ Animal Inside Out Exhibition at the Telus Spark Centre

We all have memories of those pets we had growing up that were not just a part of the family.  They were family.  No matter how often your parents told you that they were “just animals”, you knew that they were somehow part of the glue that held your family together.  Even if that was only true in one’s own little pre-teen mind.

Our family pets

I still distinctly remember two of our dogs we had when I was growing up as a young child on our farm in South Africa.  Gentle-natured Judy was a loving golden labrador.  Then there was rambunctious Bertie, a cross between a ridgeback and perhaps a bull mastiff or even an alien cyborg.  A solid chunk of muscle and tenacity, he lacked fear (and, perhaps, a brain)!  Both survived tick-induced biliary.  Bertie survived several porcupine attacks.  Both encountered and alerted us to snakes in the yard (or even in the house!).  While our song-frenzied red factor canary had the privilege of living in a small cage indoors, the rest of our pets had to be very resilient, living outdoors year-round: dogs, fish, rabbits, chickens, tortoises.

Come to Canada, where the climate dictates that all pets have to be immaculately house-trained, and suddenly I discover that pets here rule and dominate many of our lives and lifestyles.  They dictate when we wake, when we sleep, how we arrange our home décor and furnishings, which rooms we use, and even when and how long we can go on vacation.  For that matter, they dictate the family pecking order, with them and their needs firmly positioned at the top of the pyramid of the household hierarchy.

Since acquiring a bird – our “famous” Conure, Diego – we’ve suddenly become “that couple”, whose lives revolve around their pet!  Our routine has been significantly reorganized since he landed in our home in March 2019.  We now tolerate bird seed spread across the living room floor from his foraging forays; wizened left-over vegetable scraps flung across the room by his vigorous head-shakes; overlooked bird poop that has become dehydrated and caked onto rugs, bannisters, floors and furniture; water splatter from his impromptu baths in his water bowl.  Prior to Diego’s arrival we were fastidious about home cleanliness.  Now, as his “flock mentors” – a role we take very seriously, mind you – we see this mess as progress in his avian development.

Getting to the point!

So, what does my protracted preamble about family pets have to do about the extraordinary exhibit that has landed at the Telus Spark Centre in Calgary this winter?

The entrance doors at the Telus Centre
(I’ve intentionally taken this photo back-to-front … or “inside out”!)

The 100-plus exhibits of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that are on display in various forms at Telus Spark’s Body Worlds exhibit take the visitor on a journey from invertebrate water creatures through to the sophisticated structure of upright, biped humans.

Plastination, an extraordinary technique developed by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens in 1977, enables us to see the miracle of life’s intricate anatomy in numerous specimens on display in various creative yet realistic arrangements.  Muscles, skeletons, digestive systems, cardiovascular system and neurological systems are laid bare for us to see.

Educational signage associated with the plastinated displays are very informative and accessible to most age groups. 

The variety of species on exhibit is a drop in the proverbial ocean of what could be displayed.  The travelling exhibition – which must be a logistical nightmare to relocate and set up – does a phenomenal job exposing visitors to a diverse variety of species, animal sizes, and biological systems.

From the tiny display of the comparative heart sizes of a carp, frog, snake, pigeon and rabbit, to the towering mass of the graceful, galloping giraffe, there is much to see and assimilate.  Taking the time to slow down and appreciate the awesomeness of what’s on display is a real challenge.

I was awed by the opportunity to actually hold and examine a human heart and also shake hands with a degloved human arm.

One of the many neat things about the exhibit is the fact that there is something that will appeal to everyone.

Children will no doubt be transfixed by the massive bull, the camel and her calf or the towering giraffe. 

Adults may be intrigued by the way that the cardiovascular and neurological systems have been captured and presented. 

However, the common theme of the entire exhibition of reconstructed animals is that they are all very graphic!

For many of the exhibit items – particularly when viewing the subcutaneous mechanics of a limb or even an entire animal – one can, perhaps, disassociate yourself from the identity of the original being.

However, for those exhibits where remnants of the skin or furry covering is still in place or has been partially peeled away, or where the face is still intact, it makes these eerily more personal and real.

A segmented horse’s head

Despite this, I was amazed at how engaged and interactive the busy groups of kids were that visited the exhibition on the day of my outing.  I don’t recall hearing anyone objecting to what they were seeing.  There was also no sign of pale-faced puking guests who couldn’t stomach the displays.

So why my preamble about family pets?

While visitors will be captivated, there are numerous exhibits where guests may see their domestic pet stripped down to its “under-garments” or bare bones. 

I couldn’t help but wonder what Beatrix Potter might have thought upon seeing the matrix of blood vessels of a rabbit and a duck, side-by-side in a glass box.  Would she have written differently about Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck?

Will children be left wondering whether Santa will be able to deliver their gifts this Christmas once they see the deconstructed galloping reindeer duo that seem to be preparing to take flight? One can almost picture them with a sleigh in tow.

The marvel of the reindeer

Does the lacework of blood capillaries of the playful-looking pooch appear more akin to a form of modern art?

“Fetch Spot! Fetch!”

And how will viewers respond to the segmented horse head, the cut-away of the camel’s internal organs, the muscle-structure of the striding bull or the anatomy of the face-off human?

There is no doubt about it: getting to see the Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out exhibition (running until 1st March 2020) is worth every dollar you spend on your entry to the Telus Spark.

If some members of your party are a little less interested or become somewhat squeamish about the exhibit, there is no shortage of other interactive displays to see around the rest of the Centre.

Visit the larger-than-life IMAX nature shows at the Dome Theatre or learn about the weather phenomena affecting Calgary and our surroundings in the Earth & Sky exhibit. Interact with the engaging Energy & Innovation displays or diffuse some pent-up energy at the outdoor Brainasium play park.  Saunter through the Spark store that offers a treasure-trove of toys, souvenirs and gift ideas.

These are just some of the regularly updated exhibits and activities that are always on at Telus Spark that has something for every member of the family to engage and interact with.

This place is NOT only for kids, but will certainly unleash the inquisitive kid in everyone!

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