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This Artist Spent 3 Years Mapping Every Brooklyn Block—With Garbage

Jennifer Maravillas' "71 Square Miles" is one of the most colorful maps of Brooklyn I've seen. And it's made entirely of trash.

In February 2012, the artist-cartographer started gathering pieces of paper garbage from every block in the borough, which she trimmed and pasted onto a 10 by 10 foot map. Each scrap—be it a handwritten note, a lottery ticket, or a scrap of a holy text—represented the real-life block Maravillas discovered it on. 

Three years later, the quilt-like work is complete, and can be explored online (enter an address to see it in trash) and at Brooklyn's BRIC art space through September 6, in an exhibition of other maps of the borough.

Why use trash as the medium? "Because of how dirty it is," Maravillas told CityLab's Sarah Goodyear in September 2013, when the map was still underway. "Because of how much garbage is available, and how it shows the culture of the neighborhood."

Lottery tickets, parking violations, and phone cards were the most common items found as Maravillas hunted across Brooklyn (see more in the video from Animal New York, below), and they appear often across the map. But, as Maravillas told Goodyear, her preferred pieces of ephemera were the more personal ones: a drawing, a love letter, a shopping list. These reveal something more about the individual who dropped them, and about the demographics of the neighborhood.

"Brooklyn is a really interesting place from a global perspective because of the diversity here," she said. "The map is serving as a tool for people to see the borough. Connecting people—that’s the idea of a map."