Tuesday 10 November 2015

Art versus Lit-Life – Michelle Lovric

A few years ago I wrote a children’s book called Talina in the Tower. The eponymous heroine is an impudent book-worm who lives in a tower on the edge of Venice. The villains are some creatures I invented: the Ravageurs. The breed is cross between a wolf and hyena, with all the worst qualities of both. The Ravageurs gourmands, bullies, thieves and cowards, with pretensions to Frenchness. In ancient times, Venice belonged to them. I took my inspiration from the fact that the Santa Croce sestiere of Venice used to be called ‘Luprio’ because wolves once roamed across the sand banks of the lagoon to browse for prey.
My story eventually recounts how, centuries past, a wily Venetian bought La Serenissima from a greedy Ravageur ancestor. The islands and its architecture were traded for a luxe picnic. When Talina in the Tower commences, the Ravageurs are back, and they want revenge, land and obscene quantities of over-dressed food. And to stop them, I offer up only Talina, a couple of children, a professor, an historian and a few cats …

I had great fun devising the Ravageur names and their dialect using a French dictionary of slang. Here are their names:

(Literal translations in brackets):

Frimousse - vicious face

Rouquin - reddish fur

Fildefer - thin
Croquemort - an undertaker's man
Échalas - (a lath) lanky

Lèche-bottes - a boot-licker

The Lady Ravageurs are cruelly given unpleasant mocking names, such as:

Ripopette - worthless

Caboche - (a hobnail) a blockhead

Bourrique - (a she-ass) a stupid girl

Bassinoire - (a warming pan) a boring female
Bique - (a goat) a silly girl

However, in the end, the females will prove that they are in fact clever, funny and brave.

Grignan is the largest, fiercest and hungriest of the Ravageurs. He's hungry for flesh, for Golosi's Mostarda and most of all, for power. The terrifying thing is that he appears to be entitled to it. Although he claims the title of Lord of the Ravageurs, and is feared by even these fearsome creatures, the story will show that he is not always the leader they believe him to be. Petit Grignon was the name of a devil said to consort with a Frenchwoman called Suzanne Gaudry, who was tried for witchcraft in 1652. A wife of a man called Nochin Quinchou was named in the same trial, so I borrowed that one as well.

I lived with those Ravageurs in my head for a couple of years. They are still there to consult, if I want to.

And I was driven back into Ravageur Venice with a shock and a gulp recently.

One of the main joys of the Biennale in Venice is the fact that one is allowed access to certain wonderful palazzi and cloisters that are not normally open to the public. Often, the art is almost beside the point, because the architecture is so dazzling.

But this year I stumbled into an exhibit that put the architecture in the shade, while still profiting from the space.

In the cloisters of the old monastery of San Salvador, I found that a hundred of my Ravageurs clustered around a pale replica of Michaelangelo’s Pietà.

The beasts’ body language denoted the ferocity of fear, yet they were also full of blood-lust. They were cowed by the Madonna while irresistibly true to their savage natures.

The creatures were created by the Chinese artist Liu Ruo Wang, working in conjunction with the Republic of San Marino. One of the smallest and one of the largest republics of the world came together to promote contemporary art with dozens of installations and hundreds of events. The "Friendship Project - China" was curated by Vincenzo Sanfo.

Although the installation is ‘site-specific’, her oeuvre did not refer to any specifically Venetian context. ('Tis almost ever thus, at the Biennale).

The website appears to have a bad case of ‘Google Translate’ or ‘Babelfish’, explaining:

This is meant to represent the one hand a complaint against those attacks and destroys the art, the other a conviction against religious persecution a complaint extremely important especially because made by a Chinese artist who makes her cry of pain of His Holiness Pope Francis the guilty silence of the world.

I prefer not to tinker with this translation as I think we can extract the general idea, and (I often find that these translation sites throw up joys. I recently used the site to translate a poem of mine, ‘Vamping the Rat Man,’ into Italian and back to English again. An entirely different poem emerged, full of new ideas.)

And anyway, for me the main joy was to discover that someone had made one hundred of my Ravageurs and smeared them with blood.

Michelle Lovric’s website


Carol Drinkwater said...

I wouldn't want to stumble across 100 blood-stained Ravageurs. They look quite terrifying, but always fun to see something from one's imagination brought to life Cx

Sue Purkiss said...

I remember the Ravageurs. Brilliant creations, and such an inventive, fantastical book. It must have been truly bizarre to see them in person, as it were!

Mary Hoffman said...

That's amazing! Dd you contact the artist and tell her about your creation?

Joan Lennon said...

I love the Ravageurs' names! And that's an amazing installation!

michelle lovric said...

Thank you all. Yes, I really should take a copy of the book round to the organisers and see if they can get it to the artist. Perhaps she could re-installate it somewhere in France.

Leslie Wilson said...

Yes, it makes one quite convinced about Jung's Collective Unconscious concept. And I love the names, and the translation! I still have a photo of an English menu, taken in Grenada, which has delightful items such as 'Soup of snuff and shrimp,' and 'In cuts to the gridiron', and, the most bewildering but charming, I think: 'Hake: Operetta.'
Maybe they come and perform this fishy operetta at your table.
I adored the Ravageurs' names, too!