TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.


On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.


The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  






Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

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