Artists Share Their Ideas for South Red Stations With Local Residents

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McArthur Binion. Photo: Eboni Senai Hawkins

This week, the CTA held a series of community meetings where South Siders had a chance to meet the artists selected to create public art as part of the $425 million South Red Line rehab, from Cermak-Chinatown to 87th Street. The pieces are meant to improve the aesthetics of the stations and enhance the rider experience along the recently overhauled transit corridor.

The public input process for this station art is similar to what took place for 34 works previously installed along the Pink, Brown, and North Red lines, according to CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. First, CTA issues a call for artists, which is open to local, national and international professional artists. “A critical component to the public art program is community engagement,” Hosinski said. “For each art installation, CTA schedules meetings with local aldermen and hosts public meetings… to solicit input from members of the surrounding community.” After the artists are chosen, additional community meeting are held with the artist in attendance.

Wednesday’s meeting at Friendly Temple Church, 7745 South State in Chatham, covered the 63rd, 69th and 79th Streets stations and drew an engaged group of about a dozen people. The CTA’s public art coordinator, Elizabeth Kelley, outlined the Red Line South art program and the selection process for the artists, which took place in late summer and early fall of last year.

The first artist to introduce himself was McArthur Binion, whose work will be featured at 79th. He opened with a personal history, noting he was “born in Macon, Mississippi, the first of eleven children, and mov[ed] to Chicago in ‘93 to be a teaching artist because I didn’t want to get married for the third time without a salary.” He teaches at Columbia College and is represented by Kavi Gupta gallery.

Binion’s piece will expand on his ongoing  “DNA Studies” series, which started by incorporating elements of his biography like his birth certificate and old address books. For the project at 79th, he wants “to engage the DNA of the community… the names of people who actually live here,” and put out a call for address books from residents who live or have lived around 79th Street. Binion will incorporate prominent geometric shapes in his work, which will be rendered in ceramic tiles.

Doug Fogelson, the artist picked for 69th, said his work is inspired by the “era of pre-digital.” Fogelson still practices traditional photography and employs a diverse range of other techniques. He said that when he first examined the station, whose location in the median of the Dan Ryan he described as a “cacophony,” he realized that since the art would not be visible from the expressway, it would have to be all about creating a better environment for train riders.

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63rd Street Red Line Station. Photo: Graham Garfield, Chicago-L.org

Asked if his intent was to create a sense of calmness in the hustle and bustle, Fogelson explained his desire to create a beautiful experience for the rider. “What I care most about — I’m a little old school — is truth, beauty, and nature,” he said. “Nature has the most depth and is the most enduring [theme] for us all, especially in this era of climate change.” Fogelson is excited to have the chance to create a completely new work for his installation. He’ll use photographs, photograms, and etched glass as a way to “[portray] a natural phenomenon in an abstracted way.”

Emmanuel Pratt and Olalekan Jeyifous, who met while studying architecture at Cornell University, are creating art for 63rd that will incorporate text and images. Pratt, a photographer who lives in Chicago, said he has deep ties to the South and West Side through his work as an educator in aquaponics. Jeyifous is a Brooklyn-based multi-disciplinary artist.  Their idea is to reflect both present and future stories of residents who live near the station, which Pratt described as a “threshold” and a key part of the “renaissance” of Englewood.

Pratt said collaboration with the local community will be central to creating the work, adding that when he places his art in urban settings, his goal is to “capture the moment, and the evolution of the moment, and the connections between those moments.” His piece with Jeyifous, influenced by forward-thinking art movements like afrofuturism, will be displayed on the window panels of the station, and will surround the viewer so that “the more time you’re in it, more intimate it becomes.”

The artworks are still in the early stages, but Kelley said art should be going up in some stations by the end of the year with the remainder installed in early 2015. The CTA recently announced the artists who will be creating works in conjunction with the rehab of the O’Hare Line’s West, California, and Damen stations, so interested residents near those stations should keep an eye out for upcoming community meetings. In total, 21 new works of art will be commissioned by CTA as part of upcoming station improvement projects.