Lexie Smith

I worked as a baker for a long time, but I care about bread because I’m a human being. In the panoptical view of culture bread plays a modest, steady role that belies its integral hand in the construction of our worlds. I’m drawn to its coexisting extremes: at once intimate and political, singular and universal, humble and vital. In both my writing and visual work I look for places where polarities live together. Some of this comes from being an identical twin, and some from being a woman, but mostly it’s an interest in the basic human effort of reconciling ourselves with everyday methods of representation. Bread is an unlikely but ideal lens, prone to fertile tangents and already associative to most. It’s the stimulus of much of my current work, but not necessarily the point.

After leaving traditional kitchens I honed in on bread with a more dialectic intensity and began to translate it into structures and contexts whose primary purposes were not to feed people, but to encourage conversation and questioning surrounding the medium and the themes it unearthed. The bread spectrum is wide to begin with: there are the flatbreads that bid domestic servitude, the skillet cakes required for daily survival, and the industrial Frankensteins besmirched by the media. I want to know: can the thematic armature be exposed if the boule is replaced by a multiplicity of faces on a wall, the pita a spire standing precariously on one end? Most crucially, bread as a studied form pays heed not to a loaf but to its invocations: the women who remain bound to it by the lineage of duty, the countries most vulnerable to increasing taxes from climate change or war, the degradation of flour by industry wheat hybrids whose boons are yield and volume. The list goes on, and the reconfiguring of a familiar medium is an effort to catch eyes and ears so that a longer conversation can be had than one about Celiac disease. My work is not a paean to bread. It’s a reckoning.

Through sculptural and graphic inquiry there’s both a disrobing and an accumulation. Research and abstraction lead to simplified visual cues, patterns and repetition, which create space for more complex reimagining. I look at accepted methods of behavior and industrial/media propaganda and skew them to better understand why conventions take hold, and where they can or should be broken.

For the last year and a half I’ve been developing Bread on Earth, an online platform home to the tangents leading from these studies. The project involves the ongoing development of the Bread Web, an evolving database of regional bread types, currently (and in perpetuity) in its growth stage. The Bread Web has the potential to simultaneously expose the connective tissue and the idiosyncrasies of our global culture. The web will take the form of a navigable and didactic database, available online through visual data structures.

In the coming year I’ll also be carrying out a book concept hinged on the understanding of bread as a delta, capable of telling divergent stories in multiple mediums. The book will consist of immersive, narrative recipes that break from the modern standardized form, which has streamlined and cauterized what once was a premiere translator of experience. I don’t believe that food histories are the places to save space and time, but the places to create and preserve it. The recipes, sometimes fictionalized, will be joined by graphics, illustrations, and photographs.

Outside of but thematically related to bread study, I continue to explore multiplicity and accumulation, the paradox of the heap, the tenuous space between the granular and the amassed.