“When did they start doing that?” exclaimed a woman entering the CTA Red Line station at 95th Street. Before her stood the station’s latest addition, AESOP (An Extended Song of Our People), a DJ booth. Like most people walking to and from the platform, she can’t help but linger for a moment, letting her shoulders sway to the beat. The speakers, although loud, do not feel invasive or migraine inducing as the sound bounces along grey walls to spread a jazzy, hip-hop infusion throughout the station, and a feeling of warmth on a summer day that felt too much like early fall.
AESOP, built in cooperation with Theaster Gates — a Chicago based artist — the Rebuild Foundation and the CTA, is a space that hosts local DJs on Mondays and Fridays in an attempt to spread arts and music in public spaces on the South Side as the newest piece of the CTA’s public art program.
Gates is taking social infrastructure development to the next level as this DJ booth creates a space that can be repurposed for arts and programming collaborations. The goal of the Rebuild Foundation, his partner on the project, is similarly “To rebuild the cultural foundations of underinvested neighborhoods and incite movements of community revitalization that are culture-based, artist-led, neighborhood driven,” according to its website.
Street level on the north end of this CTA commuter hub, two glass doors are swung wide open to reveal a wall lined with records, a flashing red neon sign resembling a person growing out their ‘fro — the neon sign a staple of Theaster Gates’ aesthetic — and in the center, DJ Duane Powell mixing beats behind a high-tech DJ set-up. With Powell at the helm of the soundboard, shiny new turntables, mics and speakers, the sound of the platform below — beeping, clanging and automated voice chanting “doors closing” — fade away.