Particle physics art

Maxim Zhestkov’s hypnotic art makes virtual worlds tangible

Maxim Zhestkov’s work is the story of two worlds. One in which we can set foot, we are offered a convincing illusion of this possibility.

After 20 years of working with brands such as Playstation, Google, BMW and Adidas, the Russian-born, London-based artist is now immersed in self-initiated art projects driven by an “obsession” with computer graphics. , virtual reality and construction. of digital environments that merge the fundamental laws of physics with human emotion.

On August 18, Zhestkov will open a solo exhibition inside and outside the W1 Curates of London on Oxford Street, where he will make his debut Wavesan immersive digital experience exploring how a ‘wave’ in everyday emotion or communication can trigger drastic systematic changes.

As the boundary between the physical and digital worlds erodes, Zhestkov’s work asks what we can learn from the similarities between the two: “Who are we? Are we our bodies? 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. In your opinion, what motivates this interest in “phygital” experiences?

Maxim Zhestkov: The greatest transformation of our time is the exodus to a new dimension of perception. Last year, Fortnite generated more revenue than the biggest fashion brands. This may not be the virtual reality we know blade runner; our world still looks the same. These changes in values ​​are already happening, everything is changing very quickly.

My projects explore the interplay 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 but only for our dreams?

Even fairy tales are, in a sense, virtual worlds with their own rules and logic. We can go in and discover them. We are the creators of future universes, with rules, logic and appearance. We must invest in developing, building and understanding this future. I love that everything is so connected. My work focuses on this thin membrane that separates us from the future.

W*: You have already worked with brands. Why do you now focus more on personal artistic projects, and what freedom has this offered?

MZ: Although I touched the art world through my study of painting, I wanted to explore the use of computers and doing animation, which led to commercial work with brands. I learned a lot about developing projects because projects for a client are always limited.

I am an experimenter. I don’t like repeating things. The experimentation space allows me to build things from scratch at micro and macro scales. Working this way means I don’t have to listen to brands or solve their problems. Now I create and solve my own problems. My artistic projects have been much harder and are more intimate. I think it’s very important for all creative people to find a territory where they can really experiment.

W*: What inspired your new project? Waves for W1 priests?

MZ: My mind can be obsessed with certain things. Thinking about the waves, I started seeing them everywhere. Even the light that enters your eyes is decoded into different colors through the wavelengths. We look at our world through the waves. I read recently The art of noticing by Rob Walker. It’s about the idea that beautiful and terrible things are happening everywhere, every millisecond, but we’re developing shells that filter out those signals. My work aims to break down these shells to allow people to see and feel the smallest things.

The project Waves is not about physical waves, like ocean waves. It’s about the waves we feel every day in communication and in emotion – about how a trigger can cause drastic changes in a system.

My projects start with an algorithm that always takes me somewhere very different from what I expected. Small mistakes create beautiful patterns. As an artist, I don’t feel like I’m creating. I organize the results of complexity and unpredictability. It is a dialogue with machines; together we determine what is beautiful and what is not.

Rendering of Waveswhich will open at W1 Curates on August 18

W*: Tell me about the creation and development process

MZ: My team and I use Houdini as our main tool, and we add snippets of our own code that allow us to do complicated simulations. For Waveswe used 100 million objects, which interact to form a new whole.

Everything comes from the laws of physics. Yet sometimes we can’t understand why processes happen the way they do. We build each project on this crossroads of art and technical direction. Sometimes it can be difficult to change even the smallest detail without ruining everything.

We spent six months with ten people working on the project every day. One of the challenges is that we are always pushing our hardware to its limits. We used 100 state-of-the-art video cards. It took a month to render hundreds of iterations with their own mistakes and miracles.

Our simulations are grayscale sculptures. We work without color because it’s like drawing in pencil before working on a painting – color can change the perception of form. It’s such a wonderful and impossible way to work because you can’t predict what the end result will be. One mistake can produce a wave of errors. You are only part of the creator.

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

MZ: I want people to leave with a sense of wonder. In other words, the takeaways could live everything like a child. This state allows us to keep a fresh perspective of the systems and everything around us that we cannot control.

The little errors that change the system are exactly what produces life, what produced us. Mutations in the DNA of our ancestors are the reason we are 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 next ‘Modules’ project?

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

At the moment, there are only a few VR headsets that render at a high enough quality for my work, and they are quite expensive. We wanted to bring the best experience to as many people as possible, so we started using the Oculus Quest 2, the most affordable VR device available today.

Art brings me something completely different from 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 environment.

We will launch in about two months. It looks and feels and sounds so different from what I expected. I love every second. I love the calm that comes with diving into a different and endless world. Modules is an endless game. You can’t win, you can’t lose; all you can do is be there. It’s a vast universe to explore.

When it comes to virtual reality, I believe the greatest challenge for humanity is to figure out how to use it well – how to educate, how to inspire, how to show beauty and teach kindness. §