The most compelling art project in the metro Phoenix area in recent months is a site-specific installation located in the former Apple Store at Biltmore Fashion Park. Kenaim Al-Shatti utilizes the expansive glass storefront to project a panorama of abstract, ultra-saturated dreamscapes. The resulting imagery provides respite from the deluge of visual information we process every day.
The fact that his artwork is located at a shopping mall, the bastion of Western commerce, is not lost on Al-Shatti. He studied visual communications at ASU and is sensitive to the amount of advertising out there in the world. “My background is in viscom and design,” he said. “I’m aware of where that takes people, and I’m also aware that I can’t be a part of putting more shit into the world. “
What Al-Shatti puts into the world is digital virtual bliss that can evoke wonder, unencumbered by everyday reality and market forces. The forms he creates are abstract in the sense that they have no reference to the physical world and are seemingly born from digital ether, yet the work also feels like the most human experience one can have. His use of drenched colors that undulate and meander through a surreal digital space with just a touch of analog warmth has the potential to heighten whatever the viewer is subjectively feeling at the time.
Al-Shatti first caught our attention when he played with GLOB at FORM Arcosanti last year. The memorable set was a contemplative audiovisual experience performed in a cavernous throughway under the looming architecture. The artists’ sense of experimentation and expansive use of old and new technology distinguished them from more customary festival acts. Made up of Al-Shatti, M. Dean Bridges, and Benj Braman, the trio defies genres, having opened for touring musical acts as well as performing at the Phoenix Art Museum.
Al-Shatti’s work comes from a post-Internet world, where all our experiences are filtered through the “net,” regardless of its molecular composition. He has been actively posting GIFs on Tumblr for years; his earlier work consisted of recognizable detritus from visual culture. However, his recent and most developed work completely distills his source material to its most elegiac qualities, resulting in a unique visual language.
The Biltmore project comes on the heels of a similar light-based installation Al-Shatti created at Cityscape in downtown Phoenix. The current project is bigger and even more complex, as he combines multiple projections into one panoramic image. Al-Shatti continuously experiments and tweaks the work almost daily. “It’s a combination of multiple pieces that I’ve made for this window so far,” Al-Shatti said. “That’s where I’m coming from right now. I like this idea of making this ever-long kind of branching thing. If I make another piece tomorrow, I can add it in right away. It keeps getting longer and longer. I sit back with my sketchbook just seeing what works and what doesn’t work. This is also exploration of some of the more recent stuff I’ve been making in general.”
Al-Shatti, who has always been forward thinking, envisions his moving images in large-scale immersive environments. Although he is at times physically limited in how he can present his work, Al-Shatti is optimistic that as more people see his work, it will become easier to convince institutions and other non-traditional venues to host his art. “It’s fine that Phoenix doesn’t have all the tools for all these things yet. It will get them. I love the idea of this place being so fertile. We can take all this stuff and just build with it.”
Along with his ongoing collaborative work with GLOB, which includes performing at music festivals and creating an anthology film, Al-Shatti is preparing for an upcoming two-person show at Trans Am Cafe with his mother, an interesting artist in her own right. He plans to focus on motion pieces and possibly some painting and illustration work.
Al-Shatti’s trademark visuals were seen by thousands of people when Drake incorporated them into his recent European tour. Al-Shatti has been providing visuals for musical artists for several years now, including Shawn Mendes, Juanes, and 6lack. With such a robust national and international presence, the possibility of going to a city with access to more resources and larger audiences seems to always be a question for Al-Shatti.
“People used to ask me if I was going to move away from Phoenix,” he said. “Are you going to do this or that? I don’t understand why, as an artist, you’d want to move away from this place. It seems so ripe for experimentation and for just being able to do really interesting stuff. There’s already such a solid infrastructure of artists doing cool things.”
Motion Fantasy Art by Kenaim Al-Shatti
Biltmore Fashion Park Mall
Through June 30
Daily 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.