Sally Taylor curates a creative collaboration

Sally Taylor has come up with a creative way to enlist artists of all disciplines in one collaborative project. — Photo by Tranet Faint

When Sally Taylor was a little girl on Martha’s Vineyard, she often played a guessing game called Essences with her family. The game, the invention of Ms. Taylor’s mother, Carly Simon, involved one player choosing a well-known person whom the other players had to extrapolate by asking a series of questions. Not your average animal, vegetable, or mineral type guessing game, the questions were based on the subject’s personality. Things like, “If this person was a food/color/animal, what would they be?”

“This opened up a dialogue about the nature of perception,” Ms. Taylor, originally of Vineyard Haven and currently of Cambridge, said in a recent telephone interview. “What it is to be a perceiver on this earth.”

Years later, after successfully pursuing a singing career and starting her own record label, Ms. Taylor has reinterpreted her childhood game to launch a project called Consenses, in which 130 artists working in different media have participated.

Consenses, which was initiated two years ago, involves a variety of artists interpreting one subject in their own unique way. The idea, according to Ms. Taylor, is to explore the same thing through the five senses.

In a promotional video on the IndieGoGo crowd fundraising website, Ms. Taylor explains, “I collected 22 photos that represented different aspects of one thing. I gave each photo to a musician and asked them to interpret the essence of that photo and express it as a song. Then I took that song and gave it to a dancer who interpreted it in their own medium.” The process continued, “Until all of the senses had been represented.”

Ms. Taylor refers to the project as an artistic version of the game telephone, where people repeat a phrase through a chain of players until the final version is revealed as a distortion — usually a far cry from the original message but something new and often surprising.

Each of the original photos that set off the chain in Consenses traversed its own path in being interpreted by a variety of visual artists, artisans, and performing artists. Ms. Taylor lists the media that she drew from: photography, music, painting, collage, fashion, filmmaking, dance, poetry, sculpture, glassmaking, clay and metal work, jewelry, perfume, tea and food creation; none of the 22 projects incorporated all of the media.

Some of the participants are well known in their fields, including Ms. Taylor’s parents, Ms. Simon and James Taylor. Also contributing were Jimmy Buffett, film director Wes Craven, music producer and performer John Forte, dancer Patrick Corbin, and prize-winning author and screenwriter Susan Minot.

Many others are people that Ms. Taylor discovered through the Internet or was referred to by friends and other artists. A large number of the participants are Vineyard artists, according to Ms. Taylor, while the others represent 23 countries throughout the world. “More than 60 percent of the individuals I never met,” she said.

She interviewed each of the artists after receiving their contributions. “I asked what was the story behind the art they receive, what their intention was in what they created,” she continued. “It was the effort of looking through their own lens. Trying to identify what it meant to them. Each of these chains represents what it is to be a unique person on this planet.”

Ms. Taylor said she has personally gained a lot through the experiment. “They’ve given me an opportunity to see through their perceptions. The thing I find so fascinating about this project is that I end up with a very intimate relationship with these pieces of art. I’m staring at a photograph for a month and then the music comes along and I have to switch to the musician’s lens.”

As curator of the project, she has found that she discovered a way to experience art on another level. “The thing that’s amazing to me is that when I’ve gone to a museum in the past it was art as a destination experience. I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t know it. With Consenses it’s art as a process. You see how somebody else saw that thing.”

Ms. Taylor is attempting to go beyond the conventional boundaries of experience. “Language is set up so we can express our own understanding of the universe,” she said. “I wanted to get away from oral linguistics. It’s [Consenses] a completely new language. You get to have that sort of bottom-up, cognitive process happening. That child experience again.”

Ms. Taylor wants to share that experience with the world. She is currently running a fundraising campaign through IndieGoGo. The goal is to raise $150,000 by December 25. As of December 17, $46,988 had been raised. Unlike other crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, the entire amount does not have to be pledged by the set deadline in order to collect the donations.

The money will go towards exhibiting the artwork and reaching out to as broad an audience as possible. In her online video Ms. Taylor explains, “I need funds to design, fabricate, and launch the exhibit. To build a global interactive website that will engage and encourage people to actually get involved in the artistic process and their own expression.”

There are plans in place to host an event at the Ag Hall next summer in which the work will be presented along with workshops and performances with many of the artists on hand.

Ms. Taylor begins her video appeal on IndieGoGo by saying, “Growing up, my artistic and amazing mother and my magical and introspective father taught me to think outside the box. They said, ‘make the world a better place, help artists to find a voice.’ They said, ‘create, share and inspire people.'”

She wraps up the appeal by expounding on her goals: “To make a meaningful change in the world. To promote a quality of perception. To demystify the elitism associated with art appreciation. To create a community. To help artists grow their audiences. And to harness creativity on a global scale and — yes, Mom and Dad — to promote peace and love.”