Vela PArking Service

Jesus "Bubu" Negron: Interview

I recently returned from the San Juan Trienal de Poli/Graphica in San Juan Puerto Rico. While there I had the chance to meet with and interview several artists about the work they exhibited at the Trienal.

Jesus is from Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. I met him at a party given by Instant Coffee, the Canadian collective and asked him about his project. Thanks to Rebecca Noriega for translating our conversation!

Perry: How is narrative space built into your work (i.e. story, history, character, past, present or future)?

JBN: My project was to organize people who scout parking places for drivers who come into the downtown district of San Juan. I provided them with shirts, hats, and signage with a corporate identity. Then they went out and did their usual jobs but thereafter with a different sense of themselves. There work was now legitimized by virtue of their appearance.

All the time I try to focus on the present. I have been in the city of San Juan for 8 years and you can’t escape the fact that parking in this city is a challenge for everyone. There is an underclass of people here who survive by assisting people in cars to find parking places. They are freelancers and work independently of any valet parking company. There territory is the streets of the tourist district. For whatever reason, they have chosen to do this kind of work because they don’t have better options. They are trying to do a job so that they can get money and to help out the people in the city. They see this work as something degrading, yes, but they try and do it with dignity. It is typical of the city.

For me the curious thing is, the whole concept is, that there really is a need for parking in the city and cheap and effective, too.

For instance, they use hand signals to attract drivers to vacancies. It is a style that they all have. You can see it. I tried to capture it in the logo design I created for the graphic identity of this company which I called Velas Parking Service.

Perry: How did you choose the name “Velas”?

JBN:I chose the name because that is the way that others refer to them, the workers. It is a pejorative term. Velar means to watch. Their line is, “Te velo el carro,” I’ll watch your car…

Perry: What is the modus operandi of these workers?

JBN: There are valet parking companies that work at hotels and places where people can pay for those services. What I have observed of the people I have worked with is that they have absorbed the same method of working as these companies.

Perry: Why did you design uniforms for them?

JBN: For me a uniform has the power to enhance your dignity or degrade you, so I designed shirts and hats for them with the intention that they would be empowering. With a uniform you can distinguish and recognize people in a society and identify their social function. Uniforms express the social reality of ourselves. Locally here in my country the uniform is a very powerful element. For example the uniform of the policemen or the uniform of a convict have a lot of meaning. When I identify the problem, when I look at it, when I see it, I see that the uniform helps them improve their morale.

Perry: How do they see their responsibility to their customers?

JBN: They tell me that they reserve these spaces for people so they can park faster and they provide some security.

Perry: Why do you do this?

JBN: With art as an instrument you can push some ideals. It should make people think about their social reality. My challenge is that they, the participating workers, will adopt the idea and work with it after the project is over. Always keeping in mind that my instrument is art and as an artist I can give them something up to a point and then afterwards, they can hopefully follow it up on their own.

Perry: How does this project conclude?

JBN: For people in the art scene it concludes when the show opens and it gets printed in a book. It’s a way of perpetuating an action. But in personal terms, if they, the participants, adopt it in a personal way, I feel satisfied. The benefits for the participants have been both internal and external. Everyone who gets involved is a participant. From the person who is working as part of the project, to the person who only learns about it. This includes cultural institutions and art worlds.

Perry: How do you describe the use of non-objective space in your work (i.e. balance, visual weight, emphasis, composition, etc)?

JBN: Of all the arts, graphics is the most integrated in everyday life. It should be quickly comprehended. For example, I am not a painter, but when you paint in a hyperrealist way you have to paint every detail. And you try to make a hyperrealist structure or design. So I tried to copy all the details of a real parking service company. The logo is crucial and it duplicates the formal conventions of existing valet parking companies. Graphics is the most practical form of visual art. For instance, I chose the colors because they are the ones that a five star parking company would use.

Perry: Do you consider project this satirical on some level?

JBN: I work a lot with humor. I like people to laugh but at the action not at the person. The majority of people laugh the first time when they hear about the project but then they realize it is something valuable. That is the effect. It’s a good feeling. I always have a touch of humor.

Perry: What bothers you most in the art world?

JBN: What I am going to say used to bother me but now I understand it…that is that art has this thing of enjoying. People come to an exhibit, they like it and then they go away. But most of the time they don’t get to the marrow of what I am doing. Their response dies at “How nice!”. I am interested in people who are interested in the social dimension of art but they don’t come to exhibitions often. Hardly ever. I use art to call on these problems. The Triennial gave me a chance to show, so, now I have the benefit of exposing the problem. Contemporary art gives you the space to work with these kinds of problems. The most important thing is that it gives me the opportunity to realize my ideas.

This was an art project and it came to an end but if they, the workers, go on to do a real parking business they won’t ever forget that it started out as an art project.

Editor’s note: The San Juan Police Department shut down the Velas Parking Service shortly after the workers hit the streets in their hats and shirts.