'The rats will be living inside my sculpture for three weeks,' says Hirst as he climbs into the cage, rat in hand. 'That means they'll have time for one full reproductive cycle during the Festival. They will eat rat food and sleep in the packaging of old pharmaceutical supplies.'
The sculpture is the first stage in the production of an opera by Danny Moynihan, an old friend of Hirst's. The idea is that the installation will attract enough attention and money to stage the opera in London next year. The rats will play no further part once the opera is staged.
'If we use rats in the full opera, I don't think they'll be live rats,' says Hirst. 'In an opera there would be no point. No one could see them. I like the idea of the rats, but I also like the idea of maggots.' This begs the question of whether rats have anything to do with the opera at all. But Hirst is adamant.
'The opera starts with a dawn scene and we use the music for that to accompany the installation. We built up medicine packets so it looks like a city. Now it looks like a fallen city - like the failure of medicine. And then we will have all these rats running round it and using it as bedding and stuff like that. They'll rip the whole thing up.'
Damien Hirst's 'Agongo' can be seen at Demarco's (Venue 22), 3 York Lane, Albany St, 031 557 0707
Investment in Danny Moynihan's opera 'Agongo' can be made via The Agongo Production Office on 071-352 9119.
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