Channel 4 is to court controversy this Easter by showing a documentary unveiling an artwork by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. The programme, Crucifixion, will reveal von Hagens’ new image of Christ on the cross. It will air on C4 on Easter Sunday, 8 April.
Von Hagens is famous for his Body Worlds exhibitions, which used his “plastination” preservation technique to present human corpses, skinned and/or dissected, in lifelike poses. Some religious groups complained that the exhibitions defiled the human body. In 2002, Channel 4 broadcast a public autopsy conducted by von Hagens.
The new sculpture does not use a human body to represent Jesus Christ: it is formed from plastic, although its network of blood vessels and bones were made by injecting liquid plastic into body parts taken from donors’ bodies to create casts.
The resulting figure, which is blood-red in colour but does not contain any human tissue, is mounted on a cross made from wood cut from a tree near von Hagens’ family home in Germany.
The documentary follows von Hagens, who revealed last year that he has Parkinson’s disease, as he creates the work. “What’s important to me is that I want to move people’s minds and souls,” he is seen saying. “It’s a life’s work and I’m at a time in my life when I feel called to see this through. The clock is ticking.”
Crucifixion also features interviews with art historians and theologians, examining the enduring power of the image of Christ on the cross – including illustrations on 4th-century tombs, church-sanctioned depictions and modern portrayals. Andres Serrano, creator of the highly controversial artwork Piss Christ, is among those interviewed.
“The crucifix is the most recognised symbol in the world,” said the documentary’s director, Srik Narayanan. “It’s an icon – effectively Christianity’s logo – which has been reproduced for nearly 2,000 years. Reputations have been built and destroyed as artists have tried to reinvent the crucifix for their own age. It is something that many of the greatest artists have felt compelled to create. It’s often a work that they are drawn to either to prove themselves or late in life as they come to terms with their own mortality – it’s the last work that many artists undertake.”