To get to PLAYA, I drove through eleven ecoregions, tracking over 2,000 miles from Minnesota. I was doing ecology fieldwork in the tallgrass prairie before leaving early in the morning in mid-September. I drove across North Dakota, through Montana, up to the Idaho Panhandle, to Spokane, then down through Washington and Oregon. I learned a lot about where I was going by getting there. It was a different feeling to drive somewhere, watching the landscape go from a wide flatness to undulating hills to valleys to deserts. The Artemesia species kept replacing themselves, until I was surrounded by plants I had never seen before.

[Editor’s note: Tracie’s map of her east-west journey looks like this–the arrow at the top right points north.]

My art practice has always been marked by some type of collection process. I’ve collected rocks, bird song, shapes in leaves eaten out by caterpillars . . . when I moved to Chicago, I collected pieces of trash and chunks of asphalt. I collected moments of time spent riding the El with knitted fragments. The collecting and archiving are often my methods of trying to understand a place. In the same way ecologists can gain a deep connection to the ecosystems they work on through painstakingly getting to know some taxonomic group over months, or years, my artistic process requires methodic quantifying, classifying, ordering, organizing. And with all of that miniscule detail, some broad feeling becomes apparent. Because of this, my practice was made for the playa. There is an endlessness out there. An endlessness of shapes formed by the cracks in the lakebed that I could see, photograph, trace, hold.

I became obsessed with all of the shapes out on the lakebed. I had multiple methods of finding and choosing shapes, documenting them, and displaying them. I made a miniaturized map of my journey to get to Oregon out on the playa itself with red yarn wrapped around the lakebed chunks.

I invited people to walk along this scaled-down map of my drive, only asking people to look and notice.

All I hope for with my art is to make space for some type of awareness. The awareness ecologists have when they know the timing of flowering and the subsequent turnover of pollinators, or when they have tracked a migrating bird and can tell you exactly how far it flew in order to find a mate and breed.

I have a couple hundred tracings on paper that I am still cutting out now back in Chicago. And with all these stencils, I have an infinite language to keep making more shapes. From my two weeks collecting at PLAYA, I have projects in mind that will likely last me years.

Bio: Tracie Hayes is an artist from Charlotte, NC, currently residing in Chicago, IL. She graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in art and a BS in biology. She recently completed the 2017-2018 FIELD/WORK Residency at the Chicago Artists Coalition and is finishing up a research internship with the Echinacea Project at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She has shown her work at the John and June Allcott Gallery (Chapel Hill), the Overlook Place (Chicago), and Apparatus Projects (Chicago), among others. Tracie’s work considers the ecological address, the vulnerability and stability of ecosystems, the process of ecology, and the communication of scientific findings. She works with various media, including yarn, thread, wood, paint, and rock.


Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.