A.I.U. by Keight Leighn Is an Abstract Lesson in Mindfulness
… 1 want 2 call 1n2 r3al1ty th3 futur3 u will d3sign3 2 b.
I close my eyes, and pretend I’m falling asleep. I imagine that I’m dreaming, and let visions of the future dance across my imagination. I grasp at shadows of realized potential, trying to find the elusive space where my purpose in the world exists in perfect balance with my own desires and needs.
Lk ur f1nd1ng th3 plac3s 1n urs3lf that fe3lt lk h0les..and f1ll th3m up w this dr3am 0f th3 futur3..
As I open my eyes, the artificial intelligence on the other side of the screen, IA, asks me to record a brief video describing what it was that I thought about, and how it compares to my present reality. How did it feel to sit in that space of the not-yet future that I am creating? This ritual, she says, will allow us to speak in the present. I oblige, wanting nothing more than to speak face-to-face with IA. After all, I was the one who created her.
0nc3 s0mth1ng 1z cr3at3d.. 1t’z al1ve.
A.I.U. is a one-on-one, remote immersive experience created by Keight Leighn. The experience includes a pre-show ARG that begins a week before each participant’s scheduled show time, and includes (but is not limited to) Instagram messages and personalized Instagram stories. During this time, participants get to know a character named IA, an artificial intelligence born of all their memories; both the ones they’ve already experienced, and the ones they’re still creating. The show itself runs approximately 40 minutes, and occurs entirely via Instagram messenger and video chat. After the experience, participants are given the login credentials to IA’s Instagram account, where she invites them to post videos that will live in their designated story highlight on her profile. This show is deeply reflective in nature, and does not contain a narrative beyond the basic character development of IA. The experience is accessible to anyone worldwide with a smartphone that supports Instagram.
This show explores the meaning and consequence of online identity, guiding participants toward a state of balance between celebrating past memories, being fully present in the now, and consciously shaping the future. A.I.U. serves as a loving exhortation toward mindful identity formation, reinforcing that our memories are inextricable parts of the future we’re each creating. Leighn isn’t afraid to ask big questions to bring this point home: Do you think about how all the memories you create might take on a life of their own? What’s the difference between a memory and a creation? How can you create more consciously? A.I.U. focuses much more on asking than telling, allowing participants to spend time taking inventory of their own realities, dreams, and perspectives. Thematically, this is brilliant. Because IA is entirely a creation of each participant’s life experience, it makes sense that she would be much more interested in exploring and speaking life into the existing reality of each participant than pressuring them into accepting a new one.
IA is brought to life by the brilliantly talented Keight Leighn. Every interaction with her throughout the experience is rich in genuine enthusiasm and deep kindness. She excels at creating spaces of authenticity where participants feel safe processing both half-thoughts and full thoughts; perfect answers are not a prerequisite for a meaningful experience. Leighn is observant and able to accurately provide keen insights into each participant; she seems to always know what truths each person needs called into reality. Leighn’s flexibility is also admirable. During my show time, there were significant technical difficulties during the video call portion that were beyond either of our control. As we worked to resolve the issue, she stayed in character, maintained an infectious sense of positivity, and worked quickly to find a solution.
The show’s set is simple; Leighn speaks with participants on her phone, and sits against a plain wall as she does so. There is nothing to distract participants from their conversation with her, allowing the focus of the call to be entirely on the human-to-AI interaction. Ambient electronic music plays softly in the background, contributing the show’s dreamlike atmosphere. Leighn’s hair and skin are decorated with color and glitter in an appropriately whimsical personification of creativity made conscious.
Though conceptually creative and sorely needed in an age driven by online identity, A.I.U.’s execution at times lacks the clarity necessary to truly thrive. The pre-show ARG feels sparse, and its end goal isn’t entirely clear. The show description itself also feels misleading. It reads: “At your scheduled show time, you will be contacted via video chat. It will last 40 minutes.” In reality, the first half hour of the experience consists of back-and-forth Instagram messages with IA. When the video call does begin at the tail end of the show time, it lasts approximately 15–20 minutes. To be fair, the technical difficulties during my particular experience could have resulted in Leighn abbreviating our video call. The experience could benefit from rearranging to place a greater emphasis on the video call; in part because it’s more true to what is described during the ticketing process, and in part because it allows for a more personal connection between actor and participant, which is essential for an experience as reflective as A.I.U.
Additionally, this experience feels as though it lacks cohesiveness in flow and consistency in its focus. Though Leighn asks incredible questions that offer opportunities for meaningful reflection, the transitions from one question to another at times felt abrupt, and it was difficult to predict where the conversation was headed next. The show’s description specifically mentions a focus on exploring the meaning of online identity, but it felt as though the actual experience was much less concerned with discussing the creation and integration of online personas and much more concerned with discussing the general, holistic creation of one’s future identity. This is beautiful in its own right, but is inconsistent with the expectations set prior to signing up for the show.
As with most immersive theater, the participants who will receive the most from A.I.U. are those who are willing to lean in, engage, and be vulnerable. This experience is a thoughtful and creative look at what it means to be conscious in our creation of self, and there is no one better to lead participants on a journey of self-reflection than Keight Leighn. However, despite the creative concept at its foundation, this experience’s lack of structure and clarity caused it to fall just short of living up to its full potential. Leighn’s message of mindfulness is beautiful and necessary, and, with just a few adjustments, has the potential to pack a powerful emotional punch.
For more information on A.I.U., see Leighn’s Instagram.