The final requests of death- row prisoners facing execution have often included large orders of pork chops, fried chicken and bucket loads of ice cream.
Never before has an inmate asked for his body to be turned into fish food and fed to goldfish, all in the name of art. But that is exactly what Gene Hathorn, a convicted murderer on death row in Texas, has pledged to do if his final appeal fails.
Hathorn, 47, who was convicted of killing his father, stepmother and stepbrother in 1985, has given his consent to Marco Evaristti to use his body as an "art installation" that contributes to a wider project on capital punishment. Mr Evaristti, 45, a Chilean-born artist who lives in Denmark, said he would first deep-freeze Hathorn's body and then turn it into fish food which visitors at the exhibition could feed to a shoal of goldfish.
Mr Evaristti aims to begin the work within a year if Hathorn is refused an appeal for the third time and he hopes he can stage the show in America in a public gallery such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. "Gene Hathorn's story is a powerful one but it is not his story that is as important for me as the system that exists in a society such as America's in such a vulgar and primitive way, the system of killing people like this. I wanted to raise awareness of the fact there are people killed legally in our Western civilisation."
Mr Evaristti met Hathorn, who has been on death row since 1985, while researching the longest serving inmates. He first visited Hathorn in April this year and has made several trips back to his prison in Livingston. When he suggested the idea for the art installation, Hathorn apparently smiled and agreed immediately. "One of the reasons I chose the theme of fish food is because in his court papers, they considered him a piece of 'human trash'. This is what the court papers called him, with regards to eliminating human trash. He wants to be a part of this art. It's the last thing he can do for society and he views it as positive," he said.
Lawyers are doubtful as to whether Hathorn's will – which makes the artist the heir to his body – is valid. But Mr Evaristti said: "We are confident that we can solve this issue before Hathorn is executed ... I'm fully prepared for the legal situation around Gene."
Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department for Criminal Justice, told The Art Newspaper that a death- row prisoner could "select a person to handle the disposition of their remains".
In the meantime, Mr Evaristti is helping to raise £125,000 for an investigation into events surrounding the circumstances of Hathorn's conviction, in hope that it may lead to an appeal.
The artist said vital details such as the sexual abuse Hathorn experienced at the hands of his father, an alleged Ku Klux Klan member, was not included in court proceedings that led to his convictions and the death penalty. He asked Hathorn to start drawing in prison and he has already sold £52,000 worth of drawings produced by the convict.
Mr Evaristti said he was in contact with a German company that would be willing to assist him with the fish-food project. The exhibition will consist of a large aquarium filled with hundreds of goldfish, which visitors will be able to feed using food made from Hathorn's body.
It will be part of a wider project by Mr Evaristti, who, in August, presented a clothing collection called "The Last Fashion", in which 15 models wore outfits designed by him. He stated that those garments were for death-row prisoners to wear on their execution day, to be offered by mail order to prisoners whose execution dates are imminent.
He has also designed an execution bed to be shown at the Art Copenhagen art fair later this month. Mr 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.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies