Utopian futures and imagined pasts in the ambivalent modernism of the Kibbo Kift Kindred

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Abstract

As one of a number of progressive English outdoor organisations founded in the1920s, the little-remembered Kindred of the Kibbo Kift had radical ideas for the making of a new society, in their case, based on world peace, handicrafts and camping. Combining elements from an eclectic range of influences, from esoteric spirituality to back-to-the-land impulses, the organisation, under the director of its charismatic artist leader, John Hargrave, was more than just another manifestation of the ‘simple life’ movement. With wide-ranging ambitions including extensive educational and economic reform, Kinsfolk committed themselves to the creation of a new world, combining historical enthusiasms with a notable modernist aesthetic.For the purposes of this chapter, the group’s particular entanglement in the complex temporalities of modernity forms a central focus for analysis. Described as both modernist and antimodernist in retrospective appraisals, Kibbo Kift were themselves split between yearnings for primitive experience – always rooted in a static sense of frozen time past –and the various utopian futures that they desired to bring into being.With H.G. Wells on the advisory committee, and as self-styled ‘Intellectual Barbarians’,Kibbo Kift were equally backwards-looking and forward-thinking, combining imagined pasts with futurist fantasies. Kibbo Kift's historicism freely from the chivalry of Arthurian legend, Anglo-Saxon myth and prehistoric religion,and manifested itself in the use of Old English terminology, the reinterpretation of folkloric traditions from handicraft to mumming,and the veneration of archaeological sites. These historical compass points simultaneously coexisted with a palpable hunger for new directions; as Hargrave put it, ‘The Kin is always experimenting with new ideas because it considers this civilisation to be past its zenith and on the decline.’ The group’s futurism was most visible in their distinctive material culture, which reveals an eclectic range of aesthetic influences informed by Hargrave’s personal taste in avant-garde art and his professional background in advertising. Across Kibbo Kift’s striking insignia, regalia and dress, styles borrowed from Cubism, Constructivism and Vorticism interweave with mythological motifs and occult symbolism. This chapter disentangles the temporal complexities of its case study through examining the contemporaneous cultural and theoretical ideas that underpinned the group's idealistic vision. From their adaptation of Haeckel’s recapitulation theory to the application of ideas from utopian fiction and artistic primitivism, Kibbo Kift firstly offer a unique lens through which to viewa period pressured with the urgent need to find new solutions following the demolition of the myth of progress brought by the Great War; secondly, they provide a dramatic illustration of the ways in which the conventions of time could be challenged and manipulated in the practice of everyday life within the crucible of (anti)modernism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUtopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)Possible Life
EditorsD. Ayers, B. Hjartarson, T. Huttunen, H. Veivo
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherDe Gruyter
ISBN (Print)9783110434781
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015

Publication series

NameEuropean Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies

Bibliographical note

This is an author-produced PDF of an book chapter accepted for publication in European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies Vol.4 Utopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)possible Life. The published version is available as Annebella Pollen, 'Utopian futures and imagined pasts in the ambivalent modernism of the Kibbo Kift Kindred', book chapter in David Ayers and Benedikt Hjartarson (eds), European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies Vol.4 Utopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)possible Life (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015)

Keywords

  • Utopia
  • modernism
  • avant-garde

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