BAT YAM, Israel (Reuters) - From pickled cows to elephant dung, the art world is no stranger to offbeat ideas. But a group of lice-infested Germans?
Seven young artists from Berlin are trying to stretch the boundaries of art by living in an Israeli museum for three weeks with lice in their hair.
“Art is no longer just a painting on the wall,” Milana Gitzin-Adiram, chief curator of the Museum of Bat Yam near Tel Aviv, told Reuters. “Art is life, life is art.”
The exhibition has caused controversy — unintended, the artists say — in a country where the mention of lice may revive memories of Nazi propaganda that described Jews as “parasites.”
The artists, who sleep, eat and bathe in the gallery, said the exhibition toyed with ideas about hosts and guests in line with a theme set by the museum and aimed to blur the boundaries between art and reality.
Works that try to push the limits of art have grabbed headlines in recent years since British artist Damien Hirst won the Turner Prize with a pickled cow in 1995 and Chris Ofili daubed his 1998 winning entries with elephant dung.
In Bat Yam, Gitzin-Adiram said she spent weeks exploring the gallery’s theme of “hosting,” turning to philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and even the Bible for inspiration. She received proposals from around the world but was won over by the lice.
“The idea is that we live in the museum as their guests, and at the same time we are hosting lice on our heads,” said artist Vincent Grunwald, 23, wearing a plastic shower cap to prevent the lice from spreading.
The artists said the exhibition was not originally meant as a provocative reference to the Holocaust but offered the chance to explore with visitors the concept of the parasite and to ask whether the word could be “reclaimed” in Israel.
“We were aware that, as Germans in Israel, there was a risk we may be misunderstood, that we would open up wounds,” said Stefan Reuter, 27, with a scratch of his head. “People ask about it — we had one woman who came and thanked us for making such a great statement against the fascist rhetoric of German history.”
The group acknowledged that living with lice was uncomfortable, but said it was worth it for the sake of art.
They insist it is not a gimmick.
“We are serious,” said artist Akim One Machine-Tu Nyuyen. “The lice are part of the art.”
Additional reporting by Elana Ringler; Editing by Andrew Dobbie