In the evening we go to see the boxer Jesus Carlos. Jesus Carlos runs a gym, boxing school and library under a flyover. He too has a mission. In Sao Paulo the spaces under the numerous concrete flyovers are a honey pot of vice, drugs and violence. Jesus Carlos has taken on the task himself of changing the society that surrounds him by establishing open air gymnasia where once there was pile of trash - in every sense.
He wants to get the wasted souls off the streets and through physical exercise and education, turn the drug addicts and gang members into citizens of healthy mind and body. Jesus prides himself on the fact that he has done this himself, without aid from the government, just with good will and determination. He calls his mission Human Recycling.
He has now established two gyms and we go to see the latest first. Sandwiched between two roads, it is transparent and open to the elements on all sides, save for a fence and the roof above provided by the freeway. There is a boxing ring, homemade exercise equipment and punch bags made from gas canisters and fridges and of course the library. This started when the kids started to bring their homework along and grew into a library to expand the minds of all its members.
Opposite the gym is a small park where the drug dealers and prostitutes make their trade. He wants to turn this area into a communal allotment, but this may take some time. Recently one of the dealers came over to kill Carlos for taking away his clients, but he didn't succeed of course; Carlos, with the looks of a Tarrantino star, is hard as nails and doesn't give up.
Whilst we talk to him there is a commotion going on over at the park; flashing lights, police, a child in handcuffs. This is the first meeting I've had in the middle of a drugs bust.
Afterwards we go to the first Gym, which is much bigger, under a bigger fly-over. It is now dark and cinematic in the sodium glow of the lighting. At the entrance, a a gap in the chain link fence, there is a reception desk made from junk furniture. The whole thing is like ghetto Edward Acland, nothing wasted and piles of spare, saved materials stacked up in neat piles. Here there are two boxing rings, extensive gym (with gas bottles and rocks for weights) a skate park, another library with lounge area and even a few tents for the eager. Now, evening the place is busy, maybe 50 or more people working out, reading, watching TV or doing spectacular stunts on BMX on the skate ramps. It looks like it's doing it's job.
Calos wants to go on. He wants a gym and library under every flyover in Brazil. He wants it to become a free university for the underclass. That's a long way off, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened.
The parallels with the Mechanics Institute (both here and at UNAS) are direct and startling, inspirational. But the real question is how we work with all this stuff. What do we make for the Bienal that doesn't just fall into the trap of Bienality and just pointing at all this stuff, like the first colonists drawing and measuring every plant and animal and native they clapped their eyes on.
Jesus Carlos is already well known - even the AA are coming to see him for a summer school fro crying out loud.
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