Gastric Cubism: Getting to the Guts of the Matter

Stan Wankey

Issue 11 * Spring 2003

It was an allegedly grey fall day in Paris in 1902 when Count Edo von Frijole turned to Picasso and first uttered the words that would later morph into the artistic movement that even later came to be known as Gastric Cubism. "He asked why I was wearing a sausage around my neck," recalled Frijole in a 1952 interview with Püter Pünter, "and I told him it's like a prism or a kaleidoscope. You see the world through your absinthe; I see the world through my sausage. And so. And so that's it" (15).

It is my hope to here restore to prominence an ignored, maligned, but ultimately essential movement in 20th Century art, a movement once called "utter filth" by the influential critic Aldese Myles, and called "[a]s sublime as a prawn pie" by the father of visual Cubism himself, Pablo Picasso (in a rare candid moment) (Pumpernickel-Rhye 487).

Count Gackula (Frijole, oil on face, 1907): witness, for instance, the perspective shift of this simple phrase, the simultaneous arch nemesis and alter-ego of Edo von Frijole. The reference to the aristocracy, breakfast cereal, and a slang word for vomiting is all bound up in a single phrase, essentially daring the reader to comprehend it all at once. The result is, to put it mildly, nausea. But not a nausea without meaning: a quite modernistic nausea that, in fact, prefigures visual Cubism and prefigures existentialist philosophical perspectives as well. Thus too with the following listpoem:

How do I get more out of my goat?

Microwaveable Ranch Goat Puffs
      Bar-B-Que Goat Puffs
      Salt n' Vinegar Goat Puffs
      Raspberry Chipotle Goat Puffs
      & the elusive Green Onion
Goat Rinds in Pork Sauce
Goats Benedict
Goats Foster
Sprinkle-on Goat Flavoring (made with real Goat!)
Goat ala King
Cream of Goat (with improved Goat Flavor)
Cube of Goat bullion
Spam, Spam, Goat and Spam
French Goat Ripple (w/ a cinnamon twist)
tofugoat (goatfu - tastes just like real goat!)
General Tsao's Goat
goat drop soup
Raisin Goat Crunch
Honey Bunches of Goats
International House of Goat
Goats-Ahoy! (they're magically goatlicious!)

The list itself is a work of the late 20th Century Japanese Gastric/Postmodernist S. Crow Tem, part of a poetic installation piece at the South Northfield Museum of Art in Angstbury, Connecticut. In this exhibit, first installed in 1987, perspective is fervently shifted as each word of the piece, created out of a flexible styrene-polymer, hangs from the ceiling by servo-motor-actuated wires and alternately shakes and shivers, then is drawn abruptly up into the ceiling only to be lowered slowly back down at random intervals, creating a nausea further exacerbated by the smell of burning Velveeta that is being continually piped into the building's HVAC system. How Do I Get More Out of My Goat? produces an effect one critic compared to "trying to read a recipe book that has been cut up to create an automatic poem on an airliner experiencing severe turbulence, only with cheese" (Mygdala 12A).

And there are these works by the same artist: Anxiety Base Here: The Beagle Has Landed (mixed media, 1993) or Blimpulix Theatre and Fallout Rotisserie (architectural installation, 1988). These, along with the above Tem piece, show the ways in which Gastric Cubism allows the particular alimentary elements of contemporary existence grow into and out of contemporary experience. Take Picasso's own little known Pistoia Eats Maraschino Cherries in a Steam Bath (oil on sack-cloth 1923) with its multiple fractured, fractal perspectives of the infamous leader and sweetened garnish interconnected on a single canvas. The look digests itself but is puked back, the viewer forced to taste all at once - the undigested and the digested alike - both slowing the "consumption" of the piece and forcing a savoring thereof, though one not unencumbered by the sense-curdling tinge of stomach acid. In a way, then, Gastric Cubism somewhat presages the current "slow food" movement, re-enchanting us to our eats while simultaneously challenging us to view food in its entirety as both a thing we eat and a thing we digest.

"It takes a village," they say, "to raise a child." Therefore it should take a smorgasbord to raise a Gastric Cubist. History tells us, however, that nothing could be further from the truth. Most works of Gastric Cubism were perpetrated when their creators were at their most destitute, their most despondently hungry and poverty-stricken. Ivana Pumpernickel-Rhye writes:

It was within the confines of the Mont Knipshcen ghetto that "Count" Edo von Frijole wrote most of his great works of Gastric Cubist poetry. He was here joined occasionally by Picasso, Braque, and the Gastric playwright Edvard Muncheé. They were known to share pots of glue for dinner, washed down by an insolent concoction of home-brewed dandelion wine, absinthe and bleach." (494)

While obviously not the greatest of times financially, it proved an incredibly fruitful time creatively, giving rise to Frijole's infamous The Beatification of Oscar Meyer and the Muncheé play Oedipus Urp, a retelling of the classic Greek tale with a re-emphasis on feasting and purging, perhaps the first reference to widespread bulimia in any modern work. A work of scintillating silliness, Urp reminds us of the fundamental absurdity of this most basic act by showing it as fate, as cyclical, as aborted ejecta. And Muncheé is correct: putting stuff in your mouth , chewing it up and swallowing it is really a terribly goofy thing to do. Goofy, but utterly essential. This same period is also thought to have given rise to Braque's much maligned, and, I should think in the light of the Gastric movement, little understood, "Nutshell" period, which gave rise to his sidereal Alimentary Movements in the Dark (oil on canvas, 1921).

So how is it, some hundred years after its first, furtive bites at being, that Gastric Cubism still does not receive the credit it deserves? It is a mystery when one considers the incredible influence it had on later Cubist masters. Perhaps its lack of popularity had something to do with the smell. But I think that the problem is alimentary (Watson). The idea of a specifically gastric perspective is so foreign to most of us, so used to the easier visual and aural perspectives, that we have trouble relating. Picasso, Braque and Gris overcame this barrier by relying more heavily on the visual set of perspectives, thus appealing to the masses of avant-garde elites.

Nietzsche, renowned for his bad stomach, might have understood. The marketers of contemporary acid-reflux medications might too, if not for the other great obstacle to Gastric Cubism's success: people don't like to discuss gastrointestinal issues. It remains even during an age, unlike that of the original movement, where sex and addiction, sin and violence are openly discussed, one of the last real taboos. And though offensive terms for alimentary functions are sometimes used for the sake of profanity, very rarely are they used as expressions of art. It is perhaps time to finally get over this self-and-society-imposed repression we have about issues of gastronomical perspective. And perhaps a retrospective exploration of Gastric Cubism is the vehicle for that.

That allegedly grey morning when Count Edo von Frijole had his conversation with Picasso may just have marked, however delayed, the opening of the passageway from a culture merely consuming to a culture, finally, getting beyond all its blockages.


Works Cited

Braque, Georges. Alimentary Movements in the Dark, 1921. Museé de Rhombuse, Toulouse.

Frijole, Edo von. The Beatification of Oscar Meyer. Berlin: Upchucher, 1927.

---. Count Gackula, 1907. Self destructed after washing, 1908.

Muncheé, Edvard. Oedipus Urp. New York: Dubious Classics, 1967.

Mygdala, Mary A. "Tem Stinks Up Local Museum Again" The Angstbury Ledger and Cigar 10 June 1987, 1A+.

Picasso, Pablo. Pistoia Eats Maraschino Cherries in a Steam Bath, 1923. Metropolitan Museum of Schmaltz, Detroit.

Pumpernickel-Rhye, Ivana: "Picasso's Bad Trip: the Classical Period as Aberrant Behavior" Journal of Unpopular Culture 47 (1997): 485-500.

Pünter, Püter. "An Interview with 'Count' Edo von Frijole." Cram! 12.3 (1952): 10-23.

Tem, S. Crow. Anxiety Base Here: The Beagle has Landed, 1993. Phankstein Museum of Art, Eastwesterly University, Purewater.

---. Blimpulix Theatre and Fallout Rotisserie, 1988. Morrison Museum of Modern Madness, Montreal.

---. How Do I Get More Out of My Goat? 1987. South Northfield Museum of Art, Angstbury.

Watson, Stankmeyer. "Apprehension of Gastroenterology Patients to Discuss their Symptoms." Journal of Physician/Patient Relations 10 (2001): 797-836.