Gjergji Shkurti’s On the Rocks reviewed

, 15 December 2015

It’s hard to explain what exactly On the Rocks is. It’s a pocket-sized book of poetic vignettes vaguely constructed into a somewhat dystopian, strangely alluring set of stories based where the city of New York and its mediation converges into a morbid parody of itself. Published through Hamburg/NY-based print Montez Press –also responsible for Huw Lemmey’s CHUBZ and the ‘Manifesto’ issue of SALT. magazine – in August, 2015, the text follows the elastic grid of a capitalist United States. It’s one that’s embodied by the Hollywood icons, artworks, brands, watchtowers, cameramen, populating it, as told through the words of an Albanian-born, Big Apple-based architect and writer Gjergji Shkurti.

Clint Eastwood’s ‘alias’ and Bridget Bardot, Carravaggio paintings and a 1956 Jaguar E Type model car are among those moving through a map that includes the radiant Seagram’s Museum and AT&T Building. A detached romance blossoms between a gender-fluid character called Darcy and Monica Vitti on the obsidian black polished floor of a bar. On the Rocks is less a series of narratives but a stew that perspires with the “sinew and stench” of a high society gathering that lands its gaze (and flash photography) on the unmoving pale body of an apparently dead PhD student: “its its itsa its its a p p pe peeerfooormance piece”. The President of the Complete Union of Art molests his assistant and the Men of Peace open fire at the altar of St. Paul’s Cathedral. A conversation carries on between a set of “perverted old bastards, who could give two shits about collapsing four economies” via their paranoid inner monologues and ends in a massacre.

Gjergji Shkurti, On the Rocks (2015). Published by Montez Press.
Gjergji Shkurti, On the Rocks (2015). Published by Montez Press.

The text itself –as in, the typeface –shifts along styles and layouts; bolding, italicising and splitting itself through three droll non-sequiturs for subheadings: ‘Nuclear Eyes’, ‘Laughter & Who Cares’ and ‘Engineering Victim’. Liquidated capital, census data and wireless internet become material, malleable objects, and vice versa: “wiring up to the servers to his laptop he compresses space”. Post-internet in the original sense of the word, On the Rocks exists at that intersection where not only the real meets the virtual, but where the conceptual and the abstract crash with the carnal in physical space. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Steve McQueen and Pierre Clementi catapult through the Guggenhiem in a classic car shooting up its artworks using pearl handle pistols and a refined execution: “they only hit each painting twice”. A guard is shot dead at his desk before “falling on his donut, squirting jelly upon a pristine uncreased version of Ham on Rye.”

Architecture is as integral to On the Rocks as it is to the city of New York. It’s sliced through by glossy illustrations –craters, textured surfaces, maps and a landscape collage –designed by LINETYPE studio, founded by a fellow architect, Tyler Putnam. In works with titles like ‘Flourescent Epileptic Rays’, ‘A Geometry of Leg Muscles’ and ‘Poached by National Geographic’ the book, like each of these images, antagonizes what the LINETYPE bio calls “questions of drawing and mediated representation”.

This is a highly allusive (and elusive) text. Its opening reads like a series of aphorisms, powerful insights distilled in a phrase: “This doll that swallows your pedagogy and the fossils of academia, will always represent herself in opposition to what she fights, her embodiment.” Its ending is the section entitled ‘Engineering Victim’, split into a further three segments –Hanging, Execution and Atrophy –which circles back on a corpse introduced at is opening and “the snuff film that would be sought to spice things up.” **

Gjergji Shkurti’s On the Rocks was published by Montez Press in August, 2015.

Header image: LINETYPE, ‘Weapons Deep in the Vacuum’ (2015). Courtesy Montez Press.