From Rock 'n' Roll to Farm & Flea
In setting the stage for the “collision of rural, urban, and industrial” at her epic yearly event, Farm & Flea, Melissa Auf der Maur, the former bass player for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, looks both to the past and toward the future in bringing together a community of local creators at Basilica Hudson.
Text by Jennifer Holz
Photos: George Holz
Jennifer Holz: Do you remember the image that George took of you 2001?
Melissa Auf Der Maur: Yes. That shoot has always haunted and intrigued me. It was with my childhood best friend, Rufus Wainwright. Nerve, the magazine, was very 21st Century erotica and while Rufus’ sexuality has always been a big part of his life, I’ve never been so outwardly sensual. At one point my legs were wrapped around him and I whispered; “Only you, my gay friend, would get me into this situation!” I remember Zaldy, the stylist. I remember being in a bar on the lower east side on Ludlow. And I remember it was shortly after 9/11.
JH: That was a pivotal time for you. Your show, Channels, featured photographs you captured on the road had just opened on 9/9/01 in Brooklyn.
MAdM: Yes, I’d basically quit music. I had just left the Pumpkins and decided to remove myself from corporate-oriented rock music and dive into photography—it was the beginning of “OK, what am I gonna do now that I’m not gonna be a bass player in other people’s bands?” So I ended up being Rufus’s sidekick in that particular shoot.
JH: And now you have Basilica. How would you describe Farm & Flea to someone who’s never been?
MAdM: Farm and Flea is my Canadian socialist reaction to Black Friday in all its big-box corporate creepiness a gathering of makers, farmers, and independent producers. I love it because when you buy from that candle-maker or weaver you have just helped to support that creator and their passion. That’s the most satisfying part.
JH: How many people attend?
MAdM: It’s been consistently over 10,000 every Thanksgiving weekend. One epic year peaked at about 15,000.
JH: Does Farm & Flea support the other projects?
MAdM: Yes! It’s kind of amazing that F&F, which came from such an instinctively socialist idea, is the most sustainable of all the events.
JH: Were you ever afraid of the financial risk of starting Basilica?
MAdM: Risk is nothing I usually concern myself with. But I did find myself speaking on behalf of the wave of new creative industries in upstate NY to the bureaucrats in Albany. And I had to remind them that, “We’re the ones taking the risk!”
JH: Did the struggle you’d seen in others’ lives affect your desire to create a sustainable arts community?
MAdM: That probably comes from my upbringing. Québec is an incredibly sophisticated society in terms of taking care of each other. When I moved here in 1994, I was floored by the lack of stability and nurturing in America. You have to take care of your immediate community—family, jobs, environment. That’s the power to make the world sustainable.
JH: What’s your ideal community?
MAdM: This is my ideal community. Mixed with a bunch of strong creators, farmers, and working-class people, we have many environmentalists keeping an eye on the right to clean water and air. Groups like Scenic Hudson, River Keeper, and film-maker Jon Bowermaster have put wind in my sails.
JH: Does collaboration come naturally to you?
MAdM: Yes. Tony and I have been collaborating since the day we met. Every day we ask, “How can we bring our friends together? How can we open space and place to those we don’t know?” It’s all about collaboration.
JH: Are you intimidated by anyone?
MAdM: My father was a very radical politician. I remember a story about him at a protest being kicked by a police officer, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, “Show some humanity!” Here in the US, the political lens distorts, disrupts, and destroys a sense of unity –– this terrifies me. There’s no humanity in it.
JH: What new ideas excite you?
MAdM: Honestly—I’ve been thinking about going back to school, perhaps studying environmental policy. That would be a whole new chapter. Motherhood was the ultimate transformation. Through that I’m a fundamentally changed person. There’s a beautiful power for change if you bring people together to not only take care of themselves, but each other and the planet as well.
JH: You’ve been called a bad-ass. Is that how you see yourself?
MAdM: No way! I was in a band with the ultimate bad ass, Courtney Love. I’m just a good girl from Canada.