ecogym

The modern gymnasium is very much a 19th-century creation, no matter how much the fitness freak is kitted out with bad hair, retro headbands, and spandex, or contemporary embedded LCD interfaces and computer-generated body plans. Gyms harken back to a world of classical mechanical physics, plugged into equations of work and energy.

To the strains of Olivia Newton-John’s aerobics anthem, the puritan work ethic is transformed into a sweatshop for the body beautiful. The slick machines, treadmills, and cross trainers merely serve to disguise antique apparatuses more at home in a world of steam engines, and to stifle enquiry into thermodynamics and economy.

Then there’s artisan Manuel de Arriba Ares. Under the sign of his “eco-gym,” Gimnasio Ecológico Lumen, Arriba has turned the demon of entropy on its head. Making use of the very waste and by-products of the modern entropic economy, Arriba has created a truly practical monument in the form of a supremely low-tech gymnasium. Its fitness machines, created with a good deal of physical effort over three years from raw and junked materials such as wood, rope, and rubber, directly mirror both the design and functionality of those found within its wasteful counterpart.

Located in the small town of Valdespino de Somoza in the north of Spain, Arriba offers free access for all to this functional work of Art Brut, a wonderful Heath Robinsonesque assemblage constructed from remnants of strollers, boats, bicycles, and auto-mobiles salvaged from neighboring dumps.

Helpful signs, painted on the tarnished white remnants of refrigerators, instruct the would-be eco-gymnast on exercises and operation of the intricate machinery, reflecting Arriba’s knowledge and experience over many years as a physical education teacher.

Lumen is a “gymnasium that was born of the nature, (and which) will return to her,” Arriba philosophizes. The cycle of waste, embodied by so many aspects of the smogged-out city gym, is closed.