The Lucrece Project is a collective of artists and academics who are exploring and challenging the supposed borders between academic and artistic work and thought. We come together to ask questions of the genres and media in which we normally work by performing a series of creative experiments in critical practice. We have experimented with analytical and imaginative writing, visual art, textile art, performance, sound, and music, in order to explore the overlaps and generative meeting points between work normally categorized separately as "critical" and "creative," or "academic" and "artistic."
The Lucrece Project began in 2010 as a graduate working research group sponsored by the NYU Center for the Humanities (formerly the NYU Humanities Initiative). From 2010 - 2012, we met regularly as a collective and in small groups, which each created an adaptation of the story of Lucrece, focusing on process and method as we worked. These creations were produced and performed at two conferences, in spring 2011 and spring 2012. Our most recent project was a special journal edition, co-produced with NYU's interdisciplinary journal Anamesa in spring 2013.
The Lucrece Project members continue to meet to collaborate on individual projects, explore new working methods and processes, and discuss what interdisciplinarity means for each of our fields.
Our Origin Story
The Lucrece Project started as a class project by Johanna Devereaux and Q. Sarah Ostendorf for a Ph.D. seminar in the English department at New York University. Genre in Theory and Practice, taught by Professors Mary Poovey and Cliff Siskin in Fall 2009, investigated meanings and models of genre and challenged students to redefine our existing ideas of literary genre. The final assignment for the course, appropriately enough, was to experiment with the genre of the class project. We could do anything we wanted except write a 25-page research paper. Johanna and Q chose to design an experimental academic conference in which scholars and artists would work collaboratively to explore the overlaps between our different methods and working practices. For example, literary scholars might find themselves performing in a new play, historians might work with dancers to choreograph a new piece, and composers might collaborate with classicists to find inspiration in ancient texts. The collaborations would focus on the legendary story of Lucrece, a Roman woman whose rape and suicide in the sixth century BCE led to a civil war and the creation of the Roman republic. Since the story has inspired works of art and scholarship in many genres and media for two thousand years, it seemed an appropriate focus for a genre-crossing conference. At the conference itself, participants could present anything they liked... except a 20-minute research paper.
Working on the final project was so exciting that we decided to make our conference a reality. We altered the plans and sent a proposal for a yearlong working research group to the NYU Center for the Humanities. Although grants for research groups had until that point only been given to faculty-led projects, the Center agreed to take a chance on The Lucrece Project and make us their first ever graduate working research group.
Suddenly, our project was no longer a two-day conference, but a yearlong working group. We spent the summer sketching out ideas for meetings, events, and activities, and gauging interest from potential members. NYU is privileged to be part of a robust academic and creative community in New York. We emailed a call for interest to scores of departments and organizations and were overwhelmed not only by the quantity of responses but also by the diversity of talents, backgrounds, and interests of the respondents. From well more than one hundred responses, we ended up with a core group of fifteen members from NYU, Columbia, CUNY, Fordham, Rutgers, and Julliard. By September 2010, were ready to begin.
The Story of Lucrece
The ancient story of Lucrece blurs the line between fact and fiction. The legendary story was first told circa 30 BCE, by the Roman historian Livy and, nearly simultaneously, by the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Lucrece (or Lucretia), who lived in the sixth century BCE, was a notably virtuous Roman noblewoman and wife of the soldier Collatinus. At camp one night, the story goes, the Roman soldiers and their commander, Sextus Tarquinius, son of the tyrant king, took turns boasting about the chastity and virtue of their wives. When the men snuck back to town to test their bets, they found Lucrece to be the only virtuous wife, sitting home and spinning with her maids. Sextus Tarquinius, inflamed with lust by Lucrece's virtue, raped Lucrece later that night. When Lucrece's husband and father returned home to her the next day, she told them what Tarquinius had done and then, unwilling to live with the shame, killed herself. The grieving Collatinus and his friend Brutus carried her body to the Forum as proof of the tyranny of the Tarquins. The people revolted, the Tarquins were defeated, and the Roman Republic was established.
Over the past two millennia the story has inspired countless renditions and retellings, by artists from Livy to Shakespeare to Benjamin Britten to Tamara de Lempicka. Different artists and writers have focused on different issues in the story, notably its sexual violence, gendered power relations, and competing systems of government.
The multiplicty and malleability of the Lucrece story and its themes have made it an ideal focal point for our working group and our experiments in genre, medium, and methodology.