Last year, a car was abandoned on the street near where Brazilian artist Felipe Carrelli worked in Sao Paulo. It stayed there for six months, and homeless people began to sleep in it. The residents of the neighborhood became afraid the car would attract criminal activity, so they set fire to it. But after the fire, the car just sat there for a couple of weeks and eventually became a kind of a dump where people would throw their trash. So Carrelli transformed the neighborhood eyesore into a canvas for his art. Since that first intervention, some of Carrelli's neighbors have pitched in to help transform abandoned cars into public art installations.
Carrelli came up with the idea to clean, paint and put some plants in the car, turning it from a dump into a work of art and a beautiful garden. He shared this idea with friends Tobias Rodil and Thiago Carvalhaes and together, the three brought the idea to life, calling the project Ocupe Carrinho, or Occupy the Car. The group got help from Carelli’s parents who live in the Sao Paulo countryside and who donated a bunch of plants to the project. They also got help from the organization, Festival Baixo Centro, which supports positive urban interventions in central Sao Paulo.
The urban intervention was welcomed by the neighborhood, so much so that a lot of residents helped to beautify the car. “People from the community were happy,” says Carrelli, “they helped us paint and also water the plants.” As soon as the neighbors began to help, the urban intervention became a collective effort towards improving the neighborhood. The grassroots urban intervention helped empower residents to change a condition that before they thought they couldn’t.
So how has the government been reacting to Ocupe Carrinho’s efforts to turn abandoned cars into art and garden spaces? There have been mixed reactions. After Carrelli’s second intervention, the government took their finished work away in two days to an abandoned car yard. On the other hand, when the police pass by while the group is painting the cars, they don’t stop to hassle them. Carrelli figures they are not disturbing or destroying public property, just improving private property that was abandoned. He is also aware of the government’s role in the blight caused by abandoned cars in Sao Paulo, of which there are many. “The government has a duty to take the abandoned car away when people in the community ask them. But the government isn’t efficient enough, nor does it have the desire to recover all of the abandoned cars in the city. So they support us in silence,” says Carrelli.
So far, Ocupe Carrinho has transformed three abandoned cars into works of art and garden spaces. They plan to do more, as they have received nothing but good feedback from the neighborhoods in which they intervene.
Photos via Ocupe Carrinho!