Futurism & l’art pour l’art

I have had a very busy stretch recently, writing a lot (for work) and thinking a lot (not for work; mostly about dying hegemons, nuclear warfare and tectonic shifts). Unfortunately this combination of energy and physical fatigue makes for a lot of half-formed, half-baked ideas. I need to get them out somehow – so please don’t judge me for the incoherence.

One of these days I will have a ton of time, energy, rested mind and spirit, no distractions, and I can sit and write something and then perfectly sculpt into orderly, insightful, joyous concepts. One of these days….probably in another life.

But not this one. So here goes.

The world has long been separated into two camps: those who think art should be enjoyed for art’s sake and those who..don’t. Those who don’t instead believe in art as a moral medium, a vehicle in which to convey messages or reflection of the social conditions in which art exists.

Of the first camp, there are commonly two justifications for this:

First is purely aesthetic, whereby art should merely be visually or aurally appealing, it should “spark joy” pure and simple, to steal the highly problematic words of Marie Kondo (and which the other half of the concept, it should spark joy or “throw it away” in my feverishly overactive imagination brings to mind a terrifying vision of society; eugenics and genocide and all of that bad stuff).


Second is little more than a thinly veiled excuse for the first: art should be accessible to be able to convey expression to as wide an audience as possible.

Of the second camp, there is again a further split:

Art should have a moralistic, didactic function and should strive to teach and improve.


Art should be politicised and should be used as a tool for criticising society and mobilising the working class against bourgeoise oppression.

As Bertold Brecht explained: “Art is not a mirror held up to society; but a hammer with which to shape it.”

No prizes for guessing what this little quadrant graph correlates to then! As everything in life, it generally reflects the broad political (class) spectrum.

Of the l’art pour l’art camp:
(apologies for the Anglocentricism – but this is my frame of reference)

1. The bourgeoise (represented by the centre-right, today the neolibs) who hate theory, fear depth and intimacy, enjoy simplicity, prefer to take things at face value which means empty aesthetics above all. Think New Labour soundbites, think advertising industry, think middle-of-the road and unconfrontational blandness that is the hallmark of today’s developer-led urbanism.

2. The socialists or social democrats (centre-left, soft left, Fabians and Orwell, the third way people, in today’s money the Starmerites) who if we are to be generous are comfortable with a sort of pact-like arrangement with the centre-right, and if we are to be cynical are prepared to sprinkle a bit of theory over the moral void of the bourgeoisie to make it a little more palatable. They offer a little social critique if provoked but it is not their modus operandi: they are happy to do whatever it takes to take power, regardless of whether this means abandoning all beliefs or worse, forgetting what they actually believe (spoiler: usually little to nothing) in once they actually get close to power (and here a brief interjection: take heed – don’t trust Starmer’s trumpeting about electoral reform and a national energy company. I’ll believe it when I see it). Hence, art is only fulfilling a role if it reaches a wide audience, regardless of what it has to say or what it stands for.

And of the l’art pour plus que l’art (?? Sorry my French is rusty/nasty)

3. The right and far-right who believe that art should preach, moralise, and should have the sole underlying purpose of self-improvement (think zealots, Hitler, the Futurists – who are the reason I am writing about this today). Nietzche, who did in rare cases have some useful things to say but often not, summarised the vehemently anti art as aesthetic stance in his writings Twilight of the Idols, a piece of work that is centred around the famous aphorism “What does not kill me makes me stronger,” likely today a motto of the incels the world over (including the arch-incel, Vladimir Putin) and the ever-shrinking British working-class electorate in northern seats who continue as an act of self-harm to vote for an alarmingly mouth-foaming and rabid Tory party.

Old Nietsch (sic) said:

When the purpose of moral preaching and of improving man has been excluded from art, it still does not follow by any means that art is altogether purposeless, aimless, senseless — in short, l’art pour l’art, a worm chewing its own tail. “Rather no purpose at all than a moral purpose!” — that is the talk of mere passion. A psychologist, on the other hand, asks: what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? choose? prefer?

With all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. Is this merely a “moreover”? an accident? something in which the artist’s instinct had no share? Or is it not the very presupposition of the artist’s ability? Does his basic instinct aim at art, or rather at the sense of art, at life? at a desirability of life?

Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?”

4. OK, now we get to the best one. The Marxist take on art is that is primarily a tool for social critique, and as the producer of art is part of the society, then the two simply cannot be detached (see Brecht).

For me, instinctively, the first assessment I make when I contemplate a piece of art is not how it looks but in which context was it produced, and from there it is possible to decipher the message (and, importantly, from and to whom the message is aimed).

The Frankfurt school wrote extensively on art and probably the most important frame of reference is Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. This is a thesis to which I fully can subscribe: the shackles lifted on modern artists leads to a greater responsibility for social critique. Although, I do think he went too sour and his writings on music in Minima Moralia make my blood boil. I would contest rejection of musical innovation and “crimes of pop music.” He lauded high European culture and classical music and rejected jazz, blues. To this I have some strong questions around Eurocentricism and I would ask why he is rejecting so outrightedly culture that is not dominated and led by white well-educated Europeans.

Pop culture, punk, and the aestheticising trap

Use Hearing Protection Exhibition, Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Marianne Kell, December 2021

One thing that I have often questioned about Anglo-American culture is how readily and deftly with which pop culture vacuums up and absorbs aesthetic influences from outside the Anglosphere without really engaging with the concept its represents. My partner, who was born and raised in Farawayistan (i.e. outside the Anglo world), explained that it’s because British and Americans conceptualise the world in three ways: 1. Colonise; 2. Tourism; 3. Coloniser-tourist.

I had to admit, he has a point. With the caveat that the whiter and richer the Anglophone, the more likely this is to apply. The Anglophone is never an immigrant; always an “ex-pat.” We are at home everywhere (coloniser) and we can survive most places with only a basic grasp of the local language and customs (tourist). My partner also raised the point that the Anglo world is fixated with the “deep dive” (coloniser-tourist). We have a binary relationship to the world around us: either complete disinterest and rejection or full immersion to the point we feverishly consume everything we can find that will bolster us to the much-coveted “expert” status. Hence the raft of hobbyists and collectors (and looters, looking at you, British Museum) that Anglo-America inflicts on the rest of the world.

A case in point. Last winter, I visited Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry – “Use Hearing Protection.” It was about Factory Records, the label that was the main driver of the Manchester scene and also operated the now-defunct Hacienda nightclub which is very much part of the musical lore of the country. The label signed New Order, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Durutti Column, James, and many others shaping the British (and I’d also say European and even American) post-punk scene. Their influence is still felt today: there are so many British, American, Canadian bands from the past 20 years that are keeping that FAC sound, although by now it sounds rather pastiche and, quite frankly, dull.

The exhibition itself was fairly interesting, although as always these days when reflecting on musical production and cultural scenes in Britain in the 20th century, I mostly feel sad about how our culture and ability for creative minds to produce and reflect has been completely destroyed in the past 10-20 years. Support systems to allow creative types to create AND live have long since withered up and this has had a huge impact on our modern society which, I argue, is characterised by sterility, pastiche, blandness, and an overall aura of anxiety. BUT: that is a long discussion for another time (and I will need to bring in some of Mark Fisher’s thinking, which deserves time and attention of its own. Mark Fisher should never be a footnote).

I digress.

The main takeaway from the exhibition for me was learning that Factory Records took the graphic design inspiration (both logo and font) from the Italian Futurists. You can have a look at the FAC album covers here.


Fortunato Depero Museum, one rainy afternoon in Rovereto, August 2022, Marianne Kell

The Futurist movement was an Italian art, film and architecture and socio-political movement that was essentially a cheerleading club for Mussolini and celebrates speed, violence, and power (surely Le Corbusier was a fan then). It was founded by several mixed medium artists, with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti being the most ardent. They were an odd bunch, clearly influenced by the Swiss Dadaist surrealism, with strange puppetry and experimental, kind of proto-industrial music embedded within their movement. In the manifesto, Marinetti writes that we need to keep knocking down buildings each generation, and building new ones, which is obviously a bit mad, especially in a country that celebrates its ancient Roman heritage. Marinetti was really an early hipster who supported a death cult. Really a Proud Boy ahead of his time.  

One of the Futurist artists, not a contributor to the manifesto and stayed silent on support for Mussolini’s fascist regime (in a sort-of tacit support, it is understood), is Fortunato Depero. It turns out Depero was born in my boyfriend’s hometown (a small town in Trentino). One rainy day this summer, we visited the museum and I have to say that visually speaking, Depero’s art is lovely, but there are racist under(over)tones which are impossible to ignore. Great designer, but terrible beliefs.

The form and function is clearly influenced by cubism and I could see some Joan Miro in there in the formation of shapes and also colour palette. His Campari adverts pop up here and there (I think there are even posters hanging in some lefty pub in my hometown). There’s clearly also a reflection of socialist movements such as Bauhaus and the parallel communist Russian Futurism, both of which (it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me) I very much enjoy.

Futurist Roof, MART, Rovereto (Museum of Modern Art). Marianne Kell, August 2022

However, my point now is that I do sympathise with Peter Saville and the FAC creative team – it must be said that Depero’s art is visually appealing. And then, I felt a dissonance between l’art pour l’art and experiencing aesthetic pleasure and my moral conscience, which understands that the Futurists were terrible fascists who supported widespread civil violence and killing communists.

The second point of this, is that we need to be careful about the provenance of things we “borrow.” The New Order cover, taken directly from Depero’s illustration of the 1932 Futurist exhibition in Trentino (possibly Rovereto, L’s hometown?), is a step too far. I wouldn’t want to see an Arctic Monkeys album cover influenced by Mein Kampf – just because Futurism looks nice, still doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to recycle it without question.  It is difficult to swallow that an ostensibly left-wing, anti-Thatcher wave would take its look and feel from overtly fascist art movement. It’s as if, I dunno, Rough Trade would suddenly start producing the artwork of their signed bands in font Fraktur, entering sponsorship deals with Hugo Boss and depicting Wagnerian scenes.

Although, looking back again retrospectively at the apolitical, culturally illiterate, pointlessly hedonistic and self-congratulory, overwhelmingly white and male music scene of the UK in the late 90s and early 00s, probably the signs of the cultural landscape of the preceding decade(s) should have been clearer. Also, one of the mainstream figures to come out of that, Morrissey, has turned out to be horribly racist and right-wing so it does seem that the picture is coming into focus.

Usually, when something states to be “neither right nor left,” it means it is to be treated with suspicion, and, more often than not, silence speaks volumes. Nothing is ever apolitical; to be apolitical is in itself a political act. This certainly doesn’t mean that anything that has ever touched a Factory Record label should be “cancelled”; that is not how the world should work. The message is simply sort-of: don’t judge a book by its cover — the cover might look nice but what’s inside could well be alarming. Read it first and then decide.


By way of introduction, I wondered how I should present myself and my blog. I decided then to conduct a little interview with myself. There are so many questions that need putting straight, in my own head as well, that can only be satisfied by answering in the third person. Right? Step forward. Let’s commence this thing…

Q: Why are you starting a blog now? Did I miss something or is it 2005 again…?
A: Good point! The answer is no, it’s not 2005 but alas, let us bathe in the nostalgia from that golden age of internet for a moment. Back in my teens I used to be an avid blogger. This was in common with most of the nerds, and especially female ones I think. Livejournal communities were all the rage at that time. There were a bunch of other communities too that I no longer remember. It was a peculiar time. On the cusp of something huge, before Facebook and Twitter and when there were still multiple search engines to choose from (Altavista, AskJeeves, Lycos, anyone?) and “to google” had not yet verbed its way into every living language (and probably some dead ones too, how do you say “google” in Latin?) under the sun. The internet was still wet and half-formed, full of holes and blank spaces and bad fonts. Looking back, everything on the Old Internet feels embryonic. Forums and blogs were still written in long-form, in the manner with which we wrote emails, and letters before that.

In truth, I miss long form. I love words. And lots of them. I don’t like shortcuts. I don’t trust people who take shortcuts. I don’t endorse the move from words to images and all of the shortcuts encouraged by the format of social media on the New Internet. The condensing of text into a limited number of characters in Twitter is bad enough, but the absence of text entirely in Instagram, and Snapchat, and now TikTok I think makes our brains function differently. It’s like we’re all high on speed, all of the time. It’s draining. Everything has to be instantaneous on the New Internet, and I see that bleed out into real life too. I’m sure the average human attention span and patience thresholds have been dramatically lowered over the past decade.  

The Old Internet was full of oddly intimate spaces, real virtual community and solidarity. There were creeps, sure, but people had not yet grasped that the virtual space was any different to real life so could hold their tongue (or, more accurately, typey fingers). The blogosphere, as it was called then, was filled with people spilling their innermost thoughts and feelings to an audience of complete strangers without the restraint that comes with the New Internet and the evolving etiquette and the need for privacy. In some ways, it felt far more private back then. Now the average human’s entire life is laid bare for all to see, or at least some form of virtual replication, controlled and edited to varying degrees. Back then, those of us who had an emergent digital footprint felt like we belonged to some sort of elite club which our parents’ generation were certainly not privy to.  Blogs today still exist, of course, but they are mostly bland, heavily censored and depersonalised in today’s external-image-savvy (and, let’s face it, increasingly authoritarian) internet world. They are also tiresomely littered with product placement and are wrapped around the influencer culture for which they helped create the conditions in the first place. After reading most blogs today I feel dirty and manipulated, usually followed by a strange compulsion to buy pointless stuff that I really don’t need.

My activities on the Old Internet revolved mostly around music forums, trading bootleg CDs and cassettes (!) of illegally recorded concerts (I still have them somewhere, must dig out my archive) with an accompanying Geocities website, emailing, instant messaging, and blogging. This feeling of colluding in a secretive and collective liminal world was very vividly portrayed in Jenny Hval’s excellent novel Girls Against God – in reminiscing about this strange between-time, she refers to a downloadable word version of George Batailles’ surrealist erotic novel The Story of the Eye that someone, somewhere, had lovingly typed out, manually, word for word, to share with others for free. Reading Hval’s account of this I was ectastic – I downloaded and read the exact same file! I recognised the moment and the feeling of this time described by Hval. Wonderful. I want to recreate it, but I know that the world is a very different place now.

Q: Ok great. But what does this have to do with housing?
A: So, unlike in 2005 my blog is not about music. It’s about my other love: the space around us. A bit general right? I just told you that my blog is about stuff. Let’s be more specific. It’s about the physical environment which encompasses everything from urban design, architectural style, forms and shapes within the cities we inhabit. It also includes the natural environment. And finally, it will include the social environment, and this will probably be mostly where the housing bits fit in.

Q: Right. Why so?
A: Another good question! I’ve been thinking about undertaking this project for quite some time. The final push was the most recent U-turn in my career. On this I joined  millions of others across the world who during the 2020-2021 lockdowns had too much time to think (a fortunate position to be in, I realise this) about the future and what a strange world we inhabit, and one that is becoming stranger by the day. Having studied a bunch of foreign languages and started my career as a translator, and then shifting into public administration supplemented by night school and a Masters degree, and then a stint in the private sector and consultancy, I think I have finally – finally! – found my vocation: Urban design and town planning.

It’s something I’ve skirted around since undergrad days. Following this came a 4-year job in public spatial management in London, then renewable energy related activities including wind farm consents and planning process, and much more deeply through my consultancy work in urban economic development. It was this final stint that persuaded me: I felt like I was circling around experts, but did not possess the dedicated knowledge or ability to devote myself to achieve any level of mastery in a specific field.

Cue starting the journey to a theoretical and then technical training: I signed up for a second Masters in nightschool, this time in Urban and Regional Planning, accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Armed with student membership, I am reaping the benefits through attending as many events as possible alongside my studies. I am also reading as much as possible on everything I can get my hands on related to planning and urban design. And this is where the blog comes to the fore: I see it as a record of my thoughts and part of the learning process as I acquire more knowledge along my journey. I hope it’s also a space for me to explore concepts and ideas through dialogue with other interested parties. Hello! Please leave a comment if that’s you.

Q. Hmm this is getting boring now. Tell me 3 interesting facts about yourself!
A: Uuuh, I hate these awkward ice-breaker-y questions. Next!

Q: Why does the blog have such a stupid name?
A: As mentioned, I’ve been thinking about undertaking this blog project for a while. Although, originally, my idea was to track the history of old modernist cinemas. They were usually intriguing buildings. I know of three such examples within walking distance from the home in which I grew up. One was a beautiful and angular modernist 1920s building, since turned into a car garage. The second was transformed into a bingo hall at some point in the 1980s and is now a retirement home. And the third was turned into – lo! luxury flats.

The most notable North East example was also the old Odeon in Newcastle City Centre’s Pilgrim Street. This was a gorgeous art deco building which opened in 1931 and was still in use as a cinema up until the early 1990s. I remember going there as a tiny kid, probably my first ever cinema visit was there. It stood derelict until maybe 2015 (?), when it was (clumsily and sooner than planned, but that’s another story) dynamited. I watched the thing come down – unexpectedly, over a cup of coffee in the Tyneside Cinema café directly opposite.

So – this is the kino bit. Kino as in kinematograph, cinema. The sthetica is just a portmanteau (ish) from aesthetic, concerned with beauty or a set of principles in a stylistic movement. While this project is largely focused on the social, political, and environmental context of our urban surroundings, I also document things that I consider objects of beauty.  

The whole project was also supposed to be a way to get me out of the house and walking around again, after a year of lockdown and all of the kilos and pent-up mental energy that have built up since our lives got put on hold. Things are starting to bloom again, in strange and uneven ways, so it seems like a good time to start afresh. And so, kinetics, movement – kinosthetica.

Anyone who has tried to find an unclaimed pseudonym, a pen name or a bandname or similar, will understand how cramped and crowded the digital world is these days. Over the decades layers and layers of fleeting ideas, ghosts, failed projects, and some that have even flourished have amassed on the internet, like space junk. Happily, I googled Kinosthetica and just one – one! hit came up. Just a faint trace. The word was included somewhere on a Russian pornsite called Kinkfish. I’ll take that.

Nice to meet you all.