Maxim Zhestkov’s hypnotic art makes virtual worlds tangible

Maxim Zhestkov’s work is a story of two worlds. One that we can step into offers us a convincing illusion of that possibility.

After 20 years of collaborations with brands such as Playstation, Google, BMW and Adidas, the Russian-born, London-based artist has now immersed himself in self-initiated art projects, fueled by an “obsession” with computer graphics, VR and construction of digital environments that challenge the fundamental Merging the laws of physics with human emotions.

On August 18, Zhestkov will open a solo indoor and outdoor exhibition at London’s W1 Curates on Oxford Street, where he will make his debut wavesan immersive digital experience that explores how a “surge” in everyday emotions or communication can trigger drastic systematic changes.

As the line between the physical and digital worlds blurs, Zhestkov’s work asks what we can learn from the similarities between the two: “Who are we? are we our body Are we what others perceive, which can change so easily with avatars in different worlds?’

Maxim Zhestkov, artificial organisms, 2021

Wallpaper*: We’re seeing an increasing fluidity between game design, art, and architecture. What do you think drives this interest in “phygital” experiences?

Maxim Zhestkov: The greatest transformation of our time is the exodus into a new dimension of perception. Last year, Fortnite generated more revenue than the biggest fashion brands. It may not be the virtual reality we know Bladerunner; our world still looks the same. These value shifts are already happening, everything is changing very quickly.

My projects explore the interaction between digital and real spaces. How can we be there – in the digital world – or here – in the physical world – and experience environments that are not made for our bodies, only for our dreams?

Fairy tales are also virtual worlds with their own rules and logic. We can enter and experience them. We are the creators of the universes to come, along with the rules, logic and looks. We need to invest in developing, building and understanding that future. I love that everything is so connected. My work is about that thin membrane that separates us from the future.

W*: You have already worked with brands. Why are you now concentrating more on personal art projects and what freedoms have you gained as a result?

MZ: Although I was exposed to the art world through my studies in painting, I wanted to explore using computers and creating animation, which led to commercial work with brands. I learned so much about project development because customer projects are always about boundaries.

I’m an experimenter. I don’t like repeating things. Room to experiment allows me to build things from scratch on a micro and macro scale. Working this way means I don’t have to listen to brands or solve their problems. Now I make and solve my own problems. My artistic projects were much harder and more intimate. I think it’s very important for all creatives to find an area where they can really experiment.

W*: What inspired you for your new project? waves for W1 curates?

MZ: My mind can become obsessed with certain things. When I thought about waves, I started seeing them everywhere. Even the light that enters your eyes is decoded into different colors by wavelengths. We view our world through waves. I recently read The art of perception by RobWalker. It’s about the idea that beautiful and terrible things are happening everywhere every millisecond, but we’re designing shells that filter those signals. My work aims to break down these shells so people can see and feel the smallest of things.

The project waves is not about physical waves, like the waves of the ocean. It’s about the ripples we experience every day in communication and emotion – how a trigger can lead to drastic changes in a system.

My projects start with an algorithm that always takes me to a completely different place than I expected. Small flaws create beautiful patterns. As an artist, I don’t feel like I’m creating anything. I curate the results of complexity and unpredictability. It’s a dialogue with machines; Together we determine what is beautiful and what is not.

playback from waveswhich opens on August 18th at W1 Curates

W*: Explain the creation and development process to me

MZ: My team and I use Houdini as our main tool, and we add snippets of our own code that allow us to run complicated simulations. To the waveswe used 100 million objects that interact with each other to form a new whole.

Everything derives from the laws of physics. Still, sometimes we can’t understand why processes work the way they do. We build each project on this crossroads of artistic and technical direction. Sometimes it can be difficult to change the smallest detail without ruining the whole.

We worked on the project with ten people every day for six months. One challenge is that we always push our hardware to its limits. We used 100 state-of-the-art graphics cards. It took a month to render hundreds of iterations with their own flaws and wonders.

Our simulations are greyscale sculptures. We work without color because it’s like drawing in pencil before working on a painting – color can change the perception of shapes. It’s such a wonderful and impossible way to work because you can’t predict what you’ll end up with. One mistake can create a wave of mistakes. You are only partially the creator.

W*: What do you hope viewers will take away from this experience?

MZ: I want people to go home with a sense of wonder. In other words, the diner could experience everything like a child. This state allows us to see systems and everything around us that we cannot control from a fresh perspective.

Small mistakes that change the system are exactly what creates life, what created us. Mutations in our ancestors’ DNA are what make us who we are today. That’s the beauty of life – that waves, mistakes and unpredictable events bring the future.

W*: What can we expect from your upcoming project “Modules”?

MZ: I asked myself, “What can we bring from a first-person experience to the world of virtual reality?” Storytelling through a third-person experience—via avatars—has its limitations. For my work, full immersion comes only from a first-person experience.

At the moment there are only a few VR headsets that render in a quality that is good enough for my work and they are quite expensive. We wanted to offer the best experience to the largest audience, so we started using Oculus Quest 2, which is currently the cheapest VR device.

Art brings me something completely different than video games. In a virtual world, I don’t want to kill, do quests, and solve puzzles. Sometimes I just want to be there and experience the surroundings.

We start in about two months. It looks and feels and sounds so different than I expected. i love every second I love the tranquility that comes with immersing yourself in another, endless world. Modules is a never-ending game. You can’t win, you can’t lose; all you can do is be there. It’s a big universe to explore.

When it comes to VR, I believe the greatest challenge facing humanity is understanding how to use it well – how to enlighten, how to inspire, how to show beauty and teach kindness. §

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