Five art exhibitions to look out for during the Festival, compiled by Beatrice Colin.

I John McLean Vibrant abstracts painted in buzzing colour and loose. expressive style by one of Britain‘s most respected painters.

Talbot Rice Gallery. until [3 Sept.

I Syrcas Maud Sulter’s photomontages question our vision of art history and gives it a female slant. lnteresting. punchy stuff.

Portfolio Gallery until I 7 Sept.

H I" if”: 7 2:; l' 14‘mfiy4‘“ 7495’», 4'! ., . ml ’5',

312. .. ’35-, - I Monet to Matisse Hugely popular exhibition of French landscape painting. Get there early.

National Gallery of Scotland until 23 Oct. [4 (£2).

I The Colourist Legacy How has colour affected the Scottish palette? This show puts the four Colourists' work in perspective.

The City Art Centre until 2/ Sept.

I David Byme The Talking Heads frontman‘s photographic vision of America includes light fittings. bungalows and armchairs. Hynotically good.

Stills Gallery until 10 Sept. £2 (50p).

:— Medicinal purposes

British art’s bad boy Damien Hirst has designed sets for a brand new opera, Agongo. Beatrice Colin discovered the twelve-minute,

rat- infested trailer.

it must be the edge. literally. that has always attracted artists to the stage. Picasso designed sets for The Rites of Spring, Hockney for Rake 's Progress and Bruce MacLean more recently for The Empress. Now artist. curator and abattoir-regular Damien Hirst has joined forces with fashion designer Koji Tatsumo to gagingly visually realise wn'ter Moynihan's new opera Agongo.

The plot follows the birth. life and death of a tyrant. ‘He’s born without dogma.‘ says Moynihan. ‘He wreaks havoc and then acquires dogma which happens to be environmental. But he suffers from his own hand and ends up in a hospital. The hospital is like a cathedral and the implication is that ultimately medicine has taken over from religion.‘

For the Festival Hirst has been involved in constructing an installation to stir up interest in the launch of the opera next year. But with Hirst's usual quota of squirm-inducing style. the work could also be seen as an artwork in its own right. in one large room. a huge cage containing 50 live rats. medicinal bottles and boxes hangs above a fem-filled jungle. In the midst of this. one costume sits like an amorphous object or corpse. illuminated from the inside. Then through a loop of music, lighting and visuals. the whole essence of the opera is conveyed.

‘lt‘sjust one scene,’ points out Hirst down the telephone from his studio in Berlin. ‘1 used medical equipment and neon signs depicting pharmaceutical symbols to put across the idea of the kind of high, clean level you get in the medical world contrasted with the lower level where you get rats and trash. The rats are knee-deep. chewing the medical rubbish. But they‘re really very clean animals, whereas medicine can be very dirty. You can look at the rats as people metaphorically and say: “God, we're like the rats".

Hirst has worked in the theatre before and once made props for 3 Leeds venue. Now he finds the wider arena of

the stage is attractive. ‘I quite like the

fact that this project has a different bn'ef,’ he points out. ‘Art for a gallery has to be perfect, close-up, whereas in theatre it has to be perfect under the spotlights and from far away. It‘s just a different scale and I like that.’

‘Nobody gets on a fairground ride and says: “Hey, that was so sensationalist.”

After his work with animal and fish carcasses. could the live rats returned to the pet shop at the end of the festival - be seen as simply another version of Hirst's stylish sensationalism? He inhales wearily. ‘I don't think I‘ve ever seen a single visual of a magazine. a book or a film which isn‘t sensationalist.‘ he says. ‘So many people have asked me that and it's as if with an. people expect it to be very dreary and very cool. I just make what I‘d like to see in a gallery. Nobody gets on a fairground ride and says: “Hey, that was so sensationalist." Some people see my work in a very negative way and say it's shocking and nothing else. but I think it’s because it has just been in too many tabloid newspapers. Most of my work actually uses very old fashioned ideas.’

Damien Hirst’s approach makes him the perfect choice for the designer of this piece. ‘People are both manipulated and manipulative and


more often then not which we don't know what we are.‘ says Daniel Moynihan about Agongo. Damien Hirst with his manipulation of living and dead flesh, seductive yet repellent work and obsession with life and death is currently a barometer of cultural manipulation. New work? Two skinned cow carcasses mating in a tank without the formaldehyde. Have an aspirin.

A gongo is at the Demarco European Art Foundation until Sat 3 Sept. £2 (£1).

74 The List 19—25 August 1994