Rodrigo Mallea Lira explains all

O.M. Quarterly has been given the honour of interviewing the enigmatic Keeper of Fruit & Flower Deli, Rodrigo Mallea Lira. We’re hoping that he will give us an insight into the somewhat veiled and exceptionally intricate workings of the Fruit & Flower Deli concept, the mysteries of The Oracle and the exciting yet unusual partnership with Oscar Magnuson spectacles.

O.M.Q: I’ve heard the Fruit & Flower Deli being described as an anti-gallery. What is your definition it?

RML: The term “anti-gallery” was first used by the art critic Martha Schwendener to describe Fruit & Flower Deli. My own definition is both vague and long because Fruit & Flower Deli is a constantly developing concept. It has become a kind of study of a specific reality.
We are actually a gallery space, but perhaps our most important feature is a kind of alliance we have with The Oracle. It’s been a journey since spring 2007 during which the Oracle has acted as an instrument that has guided Fruit & Flower Deli but also challenged us. The Oracle was never particularly good or helpful, but rather very demanding taking us along various unexpected routes. We were told we couldn’t do any publicity and the opening hours were “Never Open, Always Welcome.”
Fruit & Flower Deli has also been defined through the people we’ve worked with both artists and non-artists. It’s been a conversation, through which we’ve managed to work as a commercial space.

O.M.Q: What or who is The Oracle? I heard she gives instructions to you if you drink a specific type of vodka, is this true?!

RML: The Oracle is a painting of a mirror, so it’s not a real mirror, but a representation of a mirror, therefore a mirror nonetheless. It’s a reflective tool. Holland Cotter, the New York Times art critic wrote that The Oracle is Snöfrid, the mirror twin of artist Ylva Ogland, who originally painted the Oracle. This is a good example of how the story of Fruit and Flower Deli is being written – because he said this, it made it true. Cotter became the co-writer of our story and the relation between Snöfrid and the Oracle taken down.
The vodka, which is an art piece in itself just as the Oracle, is related to Snöfrid. She is released from her mirror reality when consumed by the drinker of a special vodka that Ylva Ogland has distilled in various venues, such as the Swiss
Institute on Broadway in New York or The United Nations Plaza in Berlin. The vodka has been created with specific flavours including amethyst, birch leaves, Japanese pearls, gold and crushed rubies with Pol Roger Champagne. Under the influence one becomes part of the image and it’s reality and an element of the image. One gets closer to the Oracle this way one could say.

O.M.Q: Your title is “the Keeper”. What does this mean and how long have you been the Keeper?

RML: The Keeper is the facilitator of Fruit & Flower Deli. Whereas The Oracle tends to set challenges, the Keeper enables things to drive forward. I’ve been the keeper from day one when The Oracle appeared. I’d already decided to open a gallery, but then The Oracle appeared and changed the
direction of everything including my own role. Suddenly we had all these restrictions put upon us, for example, we weren’t allowed to actively look for a space, it had to come to us. But of course as soon as people heard about this, they got excited about The Oracle and started looking for us. That’s how the space on Eldridge Street, which was to become the Eldridge Optician, came about.

O.M.Q: What work have you done with Oscar Magnuson spectacles? A conceptual artist and a commercial spectacles design company seem an unusual pairing at first thought. How do the two enterprises fit together?

RML: We met when I was doing a project in Berlin and Oscar Magnuson spectacles was sponsoring part of it, but the partnership grew form here quite rapidly actually. I saw an interesting dynamic in their company, they had unusual ideas and wanted to do things in New York, and over time they kept popping into my head. And then as always a coincidence: I was in Greece, in Athens with Ylva, she was distilling a special vodka made from stones from the Acropolis in one of her shows. The curator Marina Fokidis invited us to an event on the island Hydra organised by Dakis Joannou, a famous art collector she had worked with. I’d had rather too much to drink at the dinner, there was also a party afterwards, and when I awoke I was missing a lens from my glasses. When I came back to New York I was uncertain what next step to take with the gallery. I got my glasses fixed at an optician called Moscot, came out and thought “Of course! The next gallery will be an optician!” So then I called Oscar, and suggested opening an optician in New York as the new front of Fruit & Flower Deli. We were offered the space on Eldridge by Sean Horton, a dealer friend in New York, and everything came together in a very organic way. It seemed fitting to play on another version of seeing.
We decided to test the concept in Stockholm with a two day project and it turned out to be very successful. Consequently, at the end of September 2010 we opened the new Eldridge Optician Creative Group, at Birger Jarlsgatan 31, where also the new venue for the gallery Fruit and Flower Deli can be found.
At first view it is an unusual partnership, but we have similar attitudes, ways of operating. Fruit & Flower Deli is a romantic idea, and that’s where we meet because Oscar Magnuson is a very romantic enterprise – they look back on historic persons from film or art and transform them into beautiful eyewear.

O.M.Q: It seems that Fruit and Flower Deli moves location and somewhat shifts in concept and appearance each time. What are the common themes that hold it together as an idea, albeit a fluid one?

RML: The Oracle holds it together. From the beginning it was all about change. But I guess that The Oracle could leave us any time.

O.M.Q: And about you? What inspires you? Who is your most revered artist?

RML: I revere every artist that is an artist and I consider the art community to be different from the art world. The art world is the whole system and very mechanic, almost like an exploitative factory. The arts community is all the artists and then some people who are really interested in art but don’t really gain anything out of it, they are just there are muses, tools for the artists. The core of that is what I respect and what inspires me.

O.M.Q: Which is your favourite pair of Oscar Magnuson spectacles?

RML: I haven’t chosen them yet but I know they are there.

Rodrigo Mallea Lira