Death row inmate gives his body to art
Marco Evaristti wants public to feed it to goldfish
By Clemens Bomsdorf. News, Issue 194, September 2008
Published online: 02 September 2008
COPENHAGEN. Gene Hathorn, a convict on death row in Texas, has agreed to give his body to the Danish-based artist Marco Evaristti, should his final appeal against execution fail. Evaristti plans to turn Hathorn’s body into a work of art. “My aim is to first deep freeze Gene’s body and then make fish food out of it. Visitors to my exhibition will be able to feed goldfish with it,” Evaristti told The Art Newspaper.
Hathorn, 47, has been on death row since 1985, after being found guilty for the murder of his father, step-mother and step-brother. At an earlier trial Hathorn’s friend, James Lee Beathard, was also convicted for the murders after Hathorn testified against him.
Hathorn later recanted his testimony but Beathard, who protested his innocence to the end, was executed by lethal injection in 1999 because of a Texas law which prevents the presentation of new evidence after 30 days have passed from the original trial.
In the last year Evaristti has visited Hathorn several times at his prison in Livingston, Texas. “I wanted to raise awareness of the fact that there are people killed legally in our Western civilisation,” said the artist. “A lawyer put me in contact with Hathorn and after a few meetings I suggested that I use his body and he [said he] wished that I would.” He does not think that his plan is cynical or unethical. “The real problem is legally killing people,” he said.
Evaristti says that US lawyers doubt whether Hathorn’s testament, which makes the artist the heir to his body, is valid. “But we are confident [that we can] solve this issue before Hathorn is executed,” Evaristti said. Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department for Criminal Justice (TDCJ), told The Art Newspaper that a death row prisoner “can select a person to handle the disposition of their remains”. She added that the TDCJ had no interest in who that person may be.
Evaristti is helping to finance Hathorn’s appeal by selling drawings made by the convict in prison. “I don’t think his appeal will work, so if he is executed, we will ship the body to Germany, deep freeze it there and turn it into fish food,” Evaristti told The Art Newspaper.
He said he was already in contact with a company that would be willing to assist him, but declined to identify it. The proposed exhibition will consist of a huge aquarium filled with hundreds of goldfish. Visitors would be able to feed the fish using food made from Hathorn’s body. A venue for the exhibition has yet to be decided.
The exhibition is part of Evaristti’s wider project against capital punishment. In August he presented a clothing collection called “The Last Fashion” to coincide with the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair. Fifteen models wore dresses designed by Evaristti. He says they are for death-row prisoners to wear on their execution day. They will be offered as mail-order items to prisoners on death row in the United States.
“The fashion show will be forgotten in a short time. People went there, looked at it and were amused. But I want [there to be] a lasting impact and therefore I’m using Hathorn’s body,” Evaristti said. He has also designed an execution bed to be shown at the Art Copenhagen art fair this month (19-21 September).
Evaristti came to international attention in 2000 when he placed goldfish in electric blenders filled with water. Visitors to the exhibition at Denmark’s Trapholt Art Museum could choose to press a button, turn on the blenders and kill the fish. In January 2007 he held a dinner party where the main course consisted of meatballs partly made with fat removed by liposuction from his own body. In June last year he was arrested while trying to paint the peak of Mont Blanc red as a protest against “environmental degradation”.
In April we reported plans by German artist Gregor Schneider to show a person dying as part of an exhibition. “My aim is to show the beauty of death,” Schneider told us. He said he would like to stage the exhibition at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld, Germany. The museum declined to comment.
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