Lexie Smith is an artist and baker, known for creating unique sculptures out of bread. For our profile, Lexie chatted with us about her childhood, a favorite bread recipe, and what it's like to watch people eat your art.
What was it that compelled you to participate in the Lingerie on Film project?
Panties and disposable cameras both have an undying allure to them, all the more so when combined.
Can you tell us about your upbringing and childhood?
I grew up in the suburbs right outside Manhattan, in a town that now gets written up in the New York Times but was always a little dinky and very quiet when I was a kid. We had a couple acres of land that overlooked the Hudson River from a distance, and I spent most of my time divided equally between dirt and notebooks, always either climbing trees or running barefoot, or writing maniacally. I was surprisingly solipsistic, verging on nihilistic, for a little girl with a twin sister who was also her best friend, and supportive parents. Can’t help your brains, though. My dad is a writer and my mom works in books too, so I was always surrounded by words. They were my favorite toys.
What excited you as a child?
Being alone with trees, empty notebooks, fairies (though I spelled it “faeries”), my sewing machine, the prospect of no longer being a child.
Did you have creative ambitions when you were young?
The only thing I knew was creativity. I wrote poetry compulsively, bound books by hand and sewed my own clothes. I think the fact that these hobbies took over my life infected me with an inability to work a traditional job and make money as an adult.
What did your parents instill in you that you value most today?
Don’t be an asshole.
What are you up to now?
Fighting the tides, finding my way.
We read that you are launching Bread on Earth, can you tell us a bit more about this?
It’s essentially an art project with arms in anthropology and food, helmed by the discussion of why bread is still important despite recent attempts at a public hanging. Online it will be a home to, amongst other things, an ongoing effort to map the world’s bread types and connect them to one another. It’s an effort to provide information and dialogues about cultural, environmental and political topics that all stem from this basic human icon, through writing, performance, research and art. For the time being (and indefinitely), I disseminate this info and new ideas in intermittent, irregular, tangential but passionate newsletter updates.
What came first, the bread or the snake?
Bread, but only because I didn’t know how much I’d love snakes.
What is it like to watch people eat your art?
By the time it gets to them I am happy to see it go. Part of the reason I make edible things is because having the weight of “my art” around is too much for me. I don’t like to add more bullshit to the planet, so I’m grateful the eater is getting rid of it for me. (And of course, I take pleasure in knowing that whether or not the eater realizes, they’re being fed responsibly grown and harvested grains that are good for their bodies and the planet, and whose usage supported an independent farmer somewhere).
Can you share your favorite bread recipe that is good for a beginner?
Mix whole wheat flour and water together until it feels like play-do. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of oil. Knead until smooth, 3-5 minutes, adding a bit more water if it gets too dry as you go. Let sit, covered, twenty minutes. Pinch off a golf ball sized piece and use a rolling pin on a smooth floured surface and roll into a thin circle, flouring generously as you go. Heat a heavy bottomed pan on a high flame and slap the circle onto it. Let cook for about 30 seconds, then flip and cook another 20 seconds. Remove pan and throw the round (with tongs) onto the open flame. If you’re lucky, it will poof up into a bread balloon (but it’s ok if it doesn’t). Remove quickly! Brush with ghee or oil and cover with a towel. Repeat with remaining dough. This is chapati.
Photo by Lexie Smith
Can you share with us a picture of the last loaf of bread you made, and tell us about it?
I rarely take pictures of the loaves I make at home, but here are some pancakes I made solely out of discarded spelt sourdough starter and some leftover soaked heirloom cornmeal. I can’t stand to throw anything away. Everything used was grown in the Northeast by small-scale farmers. They tasted a bit like Grapenuts, somehow. I think I took the photo to make my boyfriend, who was at work, jealous.
Do you eat a lot of bread?
Yes, but only the stuff I make or that I know is made with non-industrial flour.
For someone who works across so many different mediums, how would you describe what you do?
I try not to; it ends up complete soup, a mess. I try and answer one specific question at a time or avoid the inquiry entirely.
We love "Some of Today's News" drawings - can you tell us about this project? Can you share your favorite?
Today’s News is one of my favorite little pet projects, which I sadly don’t get to often anymore. A year or two ago I wasn’t working much and started making illustrated headlines as a means of developing a habitual relationship with reading the news, and also exploring my long-held interest in graphic design, which I’ve never much liked doing for other people. I got very obsessive and spent almost all my free time making them, doing one a day, every day, for months. Eventually, work picked back up again and I had to relinquish this project a bit. It’s aesthetically inspired by print- 20th-century editorial and book and poster design. The original intention was to do one a day for a year and publish as a book, as a chronological visual archive of that time. Maybe one day I’ll get back to it. Because they’re all made in a couple of hours, by nature of the inherent time constraint imposed by the project, I look back and see most as really amateurish. I appreciate that about them though. This is one of the few lighthearted images, and it always makes me grin.
Can you tell us about some of your muses through the years?
What are your main influences when conceiving a piece of work?
It’s (my) relationship to the past, present and future.
What part of the process excites you the most?
The embryonic stage when something first takes root, just before it begins to bloom, before doubt kicks in and overcomes.
How do you stay inspired? Are there places you go / people in your life that you look to for inspiration?
Books; things that only exist in one time, one place.
Describe your style in three words?
Masculine, feminine, haphazard
Is there a particular time period in fashion or subculture that you feel a special kinship with stylistically?
I’d like to be able to claim allegiance to one, but no.
What is something you've loved for a long time?
What is something you would love to learn?
What time of the day do you feel most energetic and what do you do in those moments?
The morning, pre-lunch. Food makes me sleepy. I try and do all of the icky things that will plague me later on and give me stomachaches. Emails, appointments, phone calls. Mostly though that’s when I like to write.
What is the best gift you have ever given someone?
An ex-lover once asked me to never speak to him again, and I agreed without conflict. So, my silence. Ironically, he was never able to thank me.
What is the favorite gift you have received?
I can’t think of a single gift I’ve ever received, suddenly, besides knives from boyfriends throughout the years. They all give me these sharp, expensive blades.
Can you share a favorite quotation, lyric, or line from a book or song that has stuck with you?
“Writing is such a pain in the ass. I’d like to talk & maybe walk and that’s about it.” –Sam Shepard
What is something that you feel is overrated? Underrated?
Underrated: The really insane process of a seed turning into a plant through photosynthesis.
Is there anything you could recommend to us?
Find out where your food comes from and act accordingly.
What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?
Being someone’s girlfriend, sustained optimism.
Can you tell us a joke?
No, they don’t stay with me.
What is your favorite Instagram account?
My friend, @nadia_gohar
Can you share the last photo you took on your phone?
It's a description from this huge book, The Secret Language of Birthdays, that I sent to my twin sister.
Can you fill in the blank? - Beauty is___________.
Damning for a woman, lucky for a man.
What are you currently….
Coveting? Sun, extra serotonin.
Reading? Roberto Bolano- recently Antwerp and currently The Third Reich.
Dreaming? Of growing a field of ancient wheat within the five boroughs and building a community wood-fired oven on the premises.
Thank you for participating, Lexie.
Visit Bread on Earth.