Sally Taylor Hosts a Summer of ‘Consenses’ on Martha’s Vineyard

The project has tapped 150 artists from around the world, including James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jimmy Buffett, and Wes Craven, to play an artistic game of 'Telephone.'

consenses martha's vineyard

“Consenses” will exhibit on Martha’s Vineyard this summer | photo provided

It started with 22 photographs—views of various beaches, seascapes, marshlands, and other landscapes on Martha’s Vineyard, depicted throughout the seasons. Looking at each photograph, Sally Taylor, who grew up on the island, asked, “Who would understand this emotionally?” She then asked musicians, both world-renowned, like her parents Carly Simon and James Taylor, and lesser-known, to interpret the photographs into songs.

When the music came in, Taylor again asked, “Who would understand this emotionally?” She then sent the songs off to be interpreted by dancers. The dances, captured on video, were shipped off to be interpreted by painters. It went on and on, like a game of “Telephone,” with 150 artists from around the world churning out poetry, sculpture, screenplays, perfume, even food and drink until all five senses were represented in each chain.

The project, titled “Consenses,” is put on display assembled into 22 custom-designed sets, each housing one of the original 22 photographs and the subsequent artworks that they inspired. Last year, after facilitating the chains for two years, Taylor debuted “Consenses” at Grange Hall on Martha’s Vineyard, where it remained for three days. Since then, she’s brought various sets to the Oberon Theater, Davis Square, and Wellesley College.

Today, “Consenses” returns to Martha’s Vineyard—in a slightly different and longer format—where it will remain through September.

“We have the entire summer to be in one space and really set up our energy and create just the perfect climate in which to immerse yourself and feel comfortable and safe in exploring the mystery of these pieces of art and their creativity,” said Taylor in a phone interview last week.

A space above Midnight Farm, a well-known island boutique co-owned by Taylor’s mother, will act as the central hub for “Consenses” this summer, where five sets have been installed. Additional sets will be shown at other locations throughout the island, including the West Tisbury Library.

“It’ll be shown as a tour around Martha’s Vineyard through 150 artists’ eyes,” said Taylor. “We really wanted to create a community where islanders and off-islanders were able to contribute to the understanding of the larger essence of Martha’s Vineyard.”

At creative stations set up as part of each installation, visitors can process what they’ve seen and post their interpretations to inspiration boards, adding their own link to the growing “Consenses” chains.

“It alleviates them or relieves them of their own limited perspective and creates a new vision—a new way in which to perceive,” said Taylor.

The project’s participatory feature is also what makes it appealing for use in the classroom. As requested by teachers, Taylor has visited several area schools to teach three-week courses, spread a week apart, in which students examine works that are already part of “Consenses” and come up with their own interpretations.

“Some kids would come back with a plate of cupcakes, and each cupcake would be a different flavor that would somehow represent their perspective. Somebody would come in with a dance, somebody would come in with a song, somebody would come in with a painting. Each of them would stand up and show their perspective, allowing the other students both to have an understanding of them as a person and also the piece of art,” said Taylor. “People who work in schools and in education recognize [“Consenses”] immediately as a tool for connectivity, community, and a way of broadening their students’ horizons.”

In the fall, Taylor is looking to pilot a full-school “Consenses” curriculum at the Charles River School in Dover, Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.

Taylor’s own vision of “Consenses,” detailed in a TEDx talk titled “The Beautiful Dilemma of Our Separateness,” goes back to her school days, when a diagnosis of dyslexia brought the fear of feeling disconnected from others and unable to express herself.

“Really the way that I came to this project was with curiosity around the idea that perhaps art was already out there and using the medium of human creativity to recognize itself, to manifest itself. I wanted to see if there were commonalities throughout these chains,” she said. “Is it the nature of the human condition to be so afraid that we’re perpetually having to make up similarities between things so we don’t feel so threatened by them? Is this about art creating itself through us, or do we create meaning from nothing because it’s too uncomfortable to be in the nothing, in the mystery?”

“Consenses” will kick off with a free community event on July 1, 5-10 p.m., at 44 Main Street in Vineyard Haven, in “The Cloud” above Midnight Farm. It will remain open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. through September. Admission is $12, and schedules for additional programming, including paint nights and concert series, will be announced on consenses.org.


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