Author Archives: Aislinn Kelly


About Aislinn Kelly

Aislinn Kelly is pursuing an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Culture, and Thought in the School of English at the University of Sussex. She graduated from the University of North Florida in autumn 2017 with a BA in English and Art History. She has written guest posts for the Institute of English Studies blog about her experience at the London Rare Books School 2017, and her article “Passing Through a World of Birds: The Performance and Signification of Blindness in Stephen Kuusisto’s Planet of the Blind” was published in 2018 in The Sigma Tau Delta Review. Before catching the archive “bug” at university and quitting the stage, she was a ballet and modern dancer in Florida. Nowadays she is fascinated by performance art and spends her free time binding books and sewing zines.


Is it a film? Is it a live performance? Neither and both: it’s Blast Theory’s Bloodyminded, ‘the UK’s first live interactive feature film’. Aislinn Kelly ruminates on the interplay between the live streaming of a single-shot film and audience interactivity; and reflects on how the commemoration of WWI conscientious objectors plays out in this 14–18 NOW commission


The Screen Actors Guild defines a feature film as one running at least 80 minutes. The British Film Institute is more generous in its guidelines, stipulating that pictures need only be 40 minutes long to qualify as features.

Whichever authority we prefer, we can be sure that Blast Theory’s latest project, an interactive film, Bloodyminded, comfortably meets its guidelines since it runs just over 80 minutes long. As for its interactivity, I engage with this film not by making decisions that change its ending but by communicating with, confessing to, a disembodied voice—a voice that is ‘live’, that can respond to me, even say my name.

Sitting in the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), one of the venues to which this film is being simultaneously live-streamed, I am asked by the narrator to consider when I have been violent, how old I was when I first challenged an injustice, and what cause I currently need to support. Each time a question is posed, I quickly open my mobile phone to access Blast Theory’s website and type out my answers before I run out of time. If I miss my moment to speak up, the live-stream moves on without me. It is already late afternoon. The live-stream started late. The actors and crew do not have any time to waste. Successfully completing this feature film is not about exceeding an abstract run-time but rather about finishing a story before the setting of the sun.

While Bloodyminded appears to fulfil its promotional claim to be ‘the UK’s first live interactive feature film’, each watching opportunity occurring in the aftermath of its live premiere unravels not only these advertised ambitions but also the artificial scarcity of it being available for ‘one night only’. Rather than an interactive and ephemeral ‘once and once only’ commemoration of conscientious objectors to the First World War, a performance that passes through but is not kept by the medium of film, Bloodyminded becomes fixed and reproducible by the recording, made available online from 28 October to 11 November 2018 and re-screened at ACCA before a behind-the-scenes Q&A on 29 November.

The longevity of its seemingly unplanned afterlife is not the only aspect of this filmed performance that disrupts time. At a technological level, the 14 October live-stream is affected by transmission difficulties that introduce dead space into the narrative and camerawork, which is meant to be one continuous shot: a black or frozen screen every few minutes, cut audio — the live production staggers towards its end and is experienced as disjointed and interminably long. Time disintegrates during the broadcast as the stream disconnects and alienates the audience from an experience of the film’s ‘real’ time, which falls further out of reach with each haunting revival on the personal or cinematic screen. Short but frequent breaks in the stream add up to a longer run-time and a disgruntled audience that cannot keep a hold of the emotional thread of this centenary piece. Some viewers may try to rescue the film from its technological problems by reading the interruptions as accidental but effective examples of formal traumatic fragmentation, but such appeals to this form of bearing witness do not prevent many audience interactions in the moment from being facetious and frustrated. Authentic responses, to be sure, but not productive ones.



I can appreciate the continuous long shot of Bloodyminded when I return to ACCA for the behind-the-scenes event. The camera skilfully moves through time as it traverses the forested army base that is Blast Theory’s stage, telescoping the century between the conscientious objectors Harold Steele and Walter Roberts and Harold’s fictional descendants: SJ, a digital activist, and Sid, a sergeant posted at the army base. Intent on breaking into the army base to bury her great-grandfather Harold’s ashes next to Walter — who died of pneumonia on a starvation diet — SJ is trekking through the woods when the camera swivels away from her, panning through time to find the two conscientious objectors amongst the trees. They reject the uniforms three soldiers button over their passively, then actively, resisting bodies.

The uniform, rejected in that instance, and the temporal disruption in space recall another of 14-18 NOW’s commissioned pieces, Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, in which volunteers appeared in WWI uniforms throughout the UK on 1 July, 2016, unexpected apparitions in the modern landscape. The confluence of dates allows embodiments of soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme to return in urban performance.

Conventional commemorations also employ such ghostly soldiers. Three figures in period uniforms stand like statues inside the memorial, heads bowed, during the Brighton & Hove Act of Remembrance on 11 November 2018. Members of the bonfire societies march in WWI uniforms through Lewes on Bonfire Night, and as recently as 24 November I have seen men in the drab woollen uniforms in the Lewes Tesco.

In this instance, in the woods, Bloodyminded works with and against the visual and performative tropes of WWI commemoration to great effect. Harold and Walter are not silent testaments of a past we think we already know; they declare out loud their refusal to cooperate with the war effort as they remove the uniforms. Here, too, is a tacit refusal to cooperate in conventional commemoration. If only this had carried through the rest of the performance.

The camera sutures the past and present together, a visual rendering of the affinity between SJ and Harold, who confided his story of conscientious objection and imprisonment in his great-granddaughter when she was young. He continues to speak to and about her—tenderly acknowledging that she has been the ideal witness to his testimony. Though SJ cannot hear his voiceover— his reply to her monologues — there is more connection here than in the mobile phone calls she conducts with her mother. These calls occur at inopportune moments throughout the performance and are little more than weak expositional devices. A much stronger use of communication technology comes later. The chilling nonchalance of the corporal’s soliloquy lingers with me. Speaking into a headset to an unknown and unimportant listener, he casually reminisces about a youthful act of violence, voice dipping in and out of fascination and confusion as if he cannot quite connect the movement of his body and weapon with the wound that opened before him.

SJ’s brother Sid also speaks to Harold. Even more so than SJ, who is overflowing with regard for their great-grandfather, Sid overflows with words for him as he grapples with the exhaustion and exhilaration of institutionalised violence. The realisation that they both speak to Harold facilitates communication and reconciliation between the siblings, who represent two types of young people at cross-purposes. Bloodyminded is thus an example of the way the past is instrumentalised by commemorative projects to serve the needs of the present.

Later, during a reprieve from the belligerent and seemingly pointless exercise of running through the base, SJ crouches by her brother’s supine body, appearing as if summoned to bear witness to his pain just as she had been drawn to listen to Harold’s account as a child. An affecting moment and turning point in the film. When SJ live-streams the burial of Harold’s ashes, she cannot complete her prepared speech because she can no longer accuse her brother of cowardice.

Harold Steele’s particular resistance to military involvement is lost as the film tries to forge channels of communication between young people whose politics and traumas have constructed seemingly insurmountable differences. SJ’s — and thus the script’s — concern for diction fades as she comes to the close of her live-stream. At the conclusion of her speech she says, ‘I salute you, great-granddad’. ‘Salute’ jars in this context. Though she does not accompany her words with a gestural salute, the word alone involves Harold in a military language and structure in which he wanted no part. Though its form is novel, Bloodyminded cannot break with a conventional militarised understanding of hierarchy, respect, and remembrance. The trappings of the army are forced back on him; Harold’s ashes are interred where he was imprisoned. Is there no end to the sentence, no escape?

After the 29 November screening, I come away from Bloodyminded knowing that it is an admirable achievement in coordination and camerawork, but as an interactive artwork and narrative bearing witness to conscientious objectors, it talks itself into too many corners, folding absolutists into the military discourse they rejected over a hundred years ago. The ostensible ephemerality of this film is a step towards reimagining the form of commemorative artworks — though it suffers from indecision about whether it is transient or monumentally ineradicable — but it leaves me still searching for a different commemorative language.



Aislinn Kelly attended the live stream of Blast Theory’s Bloodyminded at the Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts (ACCA) on 14 October 2018; and the subsequent re-screening and Q&A at ACCA on 29 November 2018.

For full details of ACCA’s past events and the Spring 2019 programme, see

Blast Theory’s Bloodyminded was created and presented as part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.

For more on 14-18 NOW, see

For more on Blast Theory, see



Empathy Museum: A Mile in My Shoes

I expect the empathetic burden to be entirely my own when I visit the Empathy Museum: A Mile in My Shoes. I expect the museum to put my empathy through its paces. What I experience is something more balanced. The speakers whose shoes I wear speak to me – via a recording on an iPod shuffle – about their life in relation to empathy: how they struggle to repress it in the name of professionalism and their own health or how they learn it for a group of people, how they recognise its shortcomings (how ineffectual at real change it can be) or its capacity to be life changing (who they meet because of it).

Less of a shoe shop and more of a shoe library, the Empathy Museum – the physical repository of shoes and recordings – is housed in a large shoebox-like container on the lawn next to the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (who are the presenters of the work). Inside, I tell the attendant my shoe size – struggling for a moment as I convert it from US to UK measurements. As I’m distracted at the dryer for boots on the shelves, I receive a pair of shoes, taken from the shelves along the back wall that are stacked with boxes. Each box contains a stranger’s shoes, which are paired with a ten-minute audio autobiography. Though the museum features shoes from a diverse sample of individuals and the stories convey a variety of emotions with which to empathise – some are joyful, others traumatic – the stories we can encounter in this museum are limited by a pre-existing physical trait: I cannot wear a size 3 shoe or a size 7.

Once the shoes are out of their box, I am free to leave the four walls of the Empathy Museum and walk around or away from the University of Sussex campus as I please. The real space of the Empathy Museum is in this mile or so of self-determined movement.

The first shoes I take out are Catherine’s. She wears heels – not particularly high, though I am daunted by them because I am unfamiliar with wearing any sort of heel. They are very soft shoes with a close fit – more like ballet slippers than most ballet-style flats. The heel shoves me forward in the shoe, and I struggle to walk properly. At several points along my route, which takes me down the Stony Mere Way, west of campus, I look down and note how small my feet look, especially as I mostly wear boots in my own life.  Staring down at these small feet that do not seem to be mine, it is as if for ten minutes I have stepped out of and am not living (in) my own life.

When Catherine begins to speak, her choice of shoe makes less sense. She is a junior doctor, a profession I imagine is hard on her feet. I associate medical professionals with comfortable and practical clogs; for years, I wore only clogs, and sometimes people would ask if I was a medical student or nurse because they recognised their own profession in my shoe choice or had also grown used to seeing their medical providers wearing this type of shoe. Catherine begins by assuring me, the listener, that she does not normally introduce herself as ‘junior doctor’ immediately. I wonder if someone has ever (correctly or incorrectly) read a profession into her shoes.

As I struggle along, I learn that Catherine is struggling with her profession because of empathy – she assists patients who are dying, who cannot receive a cure from her, only her care. She identifies one patient with her ill father, even as she explains that she does not (tries not to) bring her work home with her. Empathy is a burden that makes her job and life bleed together. Her empathy leaves her uncertain about her career – and her narration reflects her confusion and ambivalence about the future: she introduces herself as a junior doctor, but later reveals she is in the middle, or near the end, of a fellowship as a medical counsellor. She is also thinking about emigrating to Australia because the health services in the UK dishearten her. Where she is professionally, emotionally, even physically/geographically is jumbled and scattered. She ends with a plea: all people, regardless of their perceived worth or goodness, deserve healthcare – and to be listened to. This resonates with me, coming from the US, and I realise that healthcare is far from utopian in the UK.

This question of medical care is picked up by the next speaker, John, and his worn-out pair of trainers. John was a prisoner of war during the Second World War, and his life and perceptions were affected first by malnutrition and then by travel.

John recounts the period in which he was imprisoned by the Japanese in Singapore during WWII. The conditions in Singapore were such that he was soon severely malnourished, a state that then impaired his eyesight for the rest of his life. His eyesight was survived only by his acuvue moist contact lenses. He mentions toward the end of his account how his vision prevents him from driving and exercising the independence he associates with it; but not, it seems, from running in the well-worn and, once again, very soft (though much more comfortable than Catherine’s) shoes. In the post-war era, he travelled to Singapore again and to Japan, where his empathy was tested. He came to see the Japanese as people, just like any others, the wartime image of them rehabilitated by each individual’s post-war kindness to him.

John’s story recalls another, which I encountered about three years ago: the first time I visited the UK, as a research assistant to a professor working in the Weston library in Oxford, I saw the papers of Cicely D Williams, who was also held in Singapore during the war and was asked by the Japanese to conduct research on food preferences and nutrition – she was both subjected to, and the observer of, the affects of malnutrition on prisoners. Here again the boundary between personal pain and work (which Catherine grapples with) breaks down; the problem of the researcher being unable to empathise with the subject’s pain and hunger is surmounted. Empathy is revealed to be a costly endeavour.

As a user of the Empathy Museum, I find myself both observer and the observed: I listen to John and Catherine’s stories about empathy, I see their shoes walk across the pavement (while they are attached to my body), and I perform in view of other people out on the university campus. I also grow more aware of the shoes worn by everyone around me. Are the shoes interesting? Have I seen them before? Is the brand prominent or are they nondescript, generic?

Wearing pieces from another person’s life and increasingly aware of my own observations, I am self-conscious and wary of being seen. Perhaps I am worried that passersby might mistake these stranger’s shoes for my own and mis-recognise me when I am bereft of the sense of self carried by my shoes. It is thus a relief to put my boots back on. An irony: my shoes are second-hand and just as much a stranger’s as they are mine. We take others into our lives and identity all the time, and in many unacknowledged ways. This challenge to identity (my own and that of the speakers) and to the opinions and materials that constitute that identity is the strength and success of the Empathy Museum’s project: walking in circles, sitting down, moving through the world as not myself—in shoes that may or may not be obviously borrowed – performing life at a different pace.


Empathy Museum shoes KLR0375


For further information information on the Empathy Museum: A Mile in My Shoes, including details of regular podcast releases of participants’ stories, see