For the past three years, Jennifer Maravillas has been strategically wandering through the streets of Brooklyn, picking up garbage — for art. Her project, titled “71 Square Miles,” consists of a 10×10 foot map of the borough wherein each block is represented by trash she found on it. And to her delight, it’s finally done.
Last time ANIMAL checked in with the 31-year-old artist was September 2013, when she had about 20% of the map done. “I’m interested in trash because it shows so much about people’s lives,” she said at the time. “It’s language and design and it’s more this little piece of thing that’s flying around in the wind.”
Discarded packs of cigarettes, handwritten notes, playing cards, lottery tickets, and restaurant menus are among the detritus she picked up, took home, and cut out for the map. The grossest items were, as one might guess, “condoms, needles and poop.” On each mission she was sure to don rubber gloves.
So what did Maravillas learn from the project? That we litter — a lot. “Something that was pretty striking, there was just a lot of dumping around Brooklyn,” she said. Maravillas, who lives in Prospect Heights, claims to have walked every single block in mainland Brooklyn and avoided some of the smaller island off the coast. “I saw people throwing their garbage onto beaches,” she said. But overall, it was a positive experience. “People thanked me a lot. I had very few negative interactions.”
In addition to the obvious physical challenge of walking through about 9,000 blocks, there were, of course, unanticipated logistical snares. “In the beginning I had a system where I was labeling everything [the blocks], which was insane,” she said. Eventually, she used a running app to keep track of where she’d traveled.
But it was the construction of the map that proved to be the most difficult, Maravillas said, noting that she has never worked in such a large scale with years-old medium. “I didn’t want to ruin it.”
One might think that with a three-year project off her plate, Maravillas is ready for a break. But she has already set a more grueling goal for herself. “This spring, I’m going to do the other boroughs,” she said. “I think it will take a decade maybe.”
The map is currently on display at BRIC Arts through May 3rd — and digitally here — as part of the organization’s “Mapping Brooklyn” group exhibition.
Photos/Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)