Are you in the right place?

Please select your shipping country.

Rains Journal Vol. 13: That Bread Girl

July 14, 2019



Photos: Lucka Ngo

Bread. Carbohydrates. Gluten. We all have a relationship with this particular form of sustenance: some good and some bad. New York City local, Lexie Smith, has dedicated her art practice to it, using grain as a lens to explore creativity and community, and narratives on history, design, and the environment. We met up with Lexie and her pet snake, Sam, at her new apartment in Queens to talk anecdotes of her practice and praise for the cross-cultural gift of nourishment: Bread.


 

Rains Journal: From scouring the internet readings with you as the subject, one can learn that you are not a self-described “bread artist.” Even if the world might attribute that to your profile, what should your business card read?

Lexie: There’s a reason I don’t have business cards. I’m not in the business of business.

RJ: Well, Lexie, for those of us who don’t know, then – who the heck are you?

L: I hope this is the hardest question. I’m a baker and artist from New York, which is where I still live and work.

RJ: Bread on Earth is the mothership to a large leg of your work. How did this come about?

L: Bread on Earth started as an attempt to hold a thematic leg of my work under an umbrella; to centralize (and distinguish from other, non-bread related efforts) the various tangents of bready research I’d started exploring. Initially I hoped to create a place where others could access that information, navigate a map of regional bread types and contribute their own experiences, but it’s become more of just a tool, a name, to point to my breed of thinking about bread critically.

RJ: Why has bread become a central theme in your work?

L: I’ve found no marker more broadly representative of the universal and individual human experience. Basically everyone has a relationship to it that can be explored from a macro and micro level. It is simultaneously deeply political and personal. I’ve also been making bread since I was 15 or so, and have a really strong attachment to the process. It’s born me out of (or at least through) a lot of pain. As I got older there was a natural evolution to combine my physical/tactical and theoretical leanings. Bread is my perfect subject, a wide and clear lens.

 

 

RJ: What are you discovering as you unfold the learnings through bread?

L: This is a very big question. I refer to bread, or the study of it, as a river delta. There are manifold streams flowing out from it and further fracturing. My focus has become increasingly centered on bread and grain’s symbolic and direct relationship to power and peasantry, and what we can learn about the modes of production and control placed on masses by industry and capital. I’m currently more interested in that side of things than a nostalgic or domestic storytelling (which is valuable for other reasons). But it is all interrelated.

RJ: Bread has become a formidable fruit in the western hemisphere. How are you handling the era of gluten-free and low-carb?

L: The gluten free uptick was no doubt a factor in establishing a dedicating bread project. It’s a perfect time to be championing it, in part because all the sudden Westerners have opinions about bread that they consider personally customized, where it was previously established as a really banal and innocuous part of our food culture. These choices to ‘go gluten-free’ are symptoms of our individualized, atomized culture, which keeps us alienated from each other and susceptible to manipulation, and deluded into thinking we’re aligned with some larger, like-minded ‘community’. See also: neo-feminism, the eco/sustainability market, etc. Anytime a public trend is pushed by industry and capitalized on by that same industry, we should be asking questions. I have conversations with people about their own relationship to bread and how those opinions were informed. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind or tell anyone what to do. I’m just interested in asking questions, and encouraging other people to do the same.

RJ: From scouring the internet readings with you as the subject, one can learn that you are not a self-described “bread artist.” Even if the world might attribute that to your profile, what should your business card read?

Lexie: There’s a reason I don’t have business cards. I’m not in the business of business.

RJ: Well, Lexie, for those of us who don’t know, then – who the heck are you?

L: I hope this is the hardest question. I’m a baker and artist from New York, which is where I still live and work.

RJ: Bread on Earth is the mothership to a large leg of your work. How did this come about?

L: Bread on Earth started as an attempt to hold a thematic leg of my work under an umbrella; to centralize (and distinguish from other, non-bread related efforts) the various tangents of bready research I’d started exploring. Initially I hoped to create a place where others could access that information, navigate a map of regional bread types and contribute their own experiences, but it’s become more of just a tool, a name, to point to my breed of thinking about bread critically.

 

 

RJ: You have a gorgeous pet snake—also something that, for some, can elicit feelings of fear. Do you have a thing for the taboo?

L: I hadn’t considered the overlap there. I don’t intentionally try to edge against accepted markers of fear; I guess I’m just scared of different things (lots). I’m really easily affected by my surroundings and can be very reactionary. This has made me pretty tuned into what I’m attracted to/repelled by, as opposed to what I’ve been taught to want or fear.

RJ: How do you identify within the scope of bread?

L: I have a very ambiguous role in the bread community that doesn’t fit in any traditional terms. I used to be a professional baker, then I was doing recipe development, and it has gotten murkier and murkier from there. I think ultimately I’ll best serve it through writing, but for now I sort of skirt around declaring any specific title and adjust based on the company. I tend to fall back on ‘advocate’, ‘spokesperson’, or on a bad day, ‘martyr’.

RJ: Do you have a favorite bread? Are all breads equal?

L: Any naturally leavened flatbread baked close to fire. The progenitor.

RJ: Beyond baking, the world has witnessed your writing via projects like All Semantics and Landing Pages. Have you always been a writer?

L: I was an obsessive writer before anything else. From a really young age I would write and write and write. It’s still the big mountain for me.

RJ: Baker, artist, writer—is there a central theme that connects each of these adjectives?

L: Sure, they’re all attempts to transmute my experience, and tend to require time for process. They’re methods of fermentation. And all of them have a historical relationship to poverty for a reason, I’ll tell you that much.

RJ: What sort of subjects is your work sorting through these days?

L: Questioning modes of communication, production and control; repetition and accumulation, both visually and metaphorically.

RJ: You’ve recently moved to your own place. Fresh oven, fresh start? Where does this move take you?

L: The whole place is a fresh start, though I’ve been traveling too much to have fully settled into the new space yet. I really like to be alone, probably to a fault, and need time in a vacuum to recharge. I’m good at social behaviors but am very drained by them, so I’m grateful to be able to live on my own for the first time. And I can have the oven on high for a whole day and no one will shake their sweaty head at me but me. That’s a perk.

RJ: Last question—what sort of feelings are evoked when thinking about rain?

L: Rain can elicit a total spectrum of emotions—it’s like a song, like perfume. We are so vulnerable to it both being here and withholding itself from us. Petrichor was one of my first favorite words: the sweet smell of the earth after the rain. Who is unaffected by it? •

 



Join us in our travels

Subscribe to our newsletter and read about travel, architecture, food, fashion and art in addition to staying updated with Rains.