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Artists catch head lice for show

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Seven German artists are living with lice in their hair in an Israeli museum for three weeks in the name of art.

The Berliners aim to stretch boundaries of what is art, saying they are toying with ideas about hosts and guests in line with a theme set by the museum.

"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.

The artists are wearing shower caps to prevent the lice from spreading.

Milana Gitzin-Adiram, chief curator of the Museum of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, said: "Art is no longer just a painting on the wall.

"Art is life, life is art."

'Open up wounds'

She said she spent weeks exploring the gallery's theme of "hosting", turning to philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and the Bible for inspiration.

But after receiving proposals from around the world, she decided to choose the head lice.

But artists also stressed the show was not meant to be a reference to the Holocaust.

"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.

The exhibition has the potential to cause controversy in Germany, where the mention of lice could prompt memories of Nazi propaganda that described Jews as "parasites."

Not a 'gimmick'

"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," Reuter said.

He and his fellow artists said the exhibition offered the chance to explore the concept of the parasite and to ask whether the word could be "reclaimed" in Israel.

The group acknowledged that living with lice was uncomfortable, but said it was worth it for the sake of art, and insisted it was not a gimmick.

"We are serious," said Akim One Machine-Tu Nyuyen. "The lice are part of the art."

Other controversial artworks have included last year's Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger, who also made a film called Sleeper in which he dressed as a bear and wandered around Berlin's National Gallery.

And an Australian performer, Stelios Arcadiou, also garnered attention when he had an ear grafted onto his forearm in the name of art in 2007. He said his extra ear, made of human cartilage, was an augmentation of the body's form.

I'm surprised this is making the news now ... this sorta of exhibitionism has been going on for quite some time ... like they'd keep a dog in a transparent room and not feed him, that way exhibiting the changes to the body, and the eventual death by hunger. Sick.

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

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