We are currently in an unprecedented era of art; the physical and digital worlds have collided, no longer constrained by the traditional aspects of aesthetics and theory. Artists freely play with form, subtlety, and complexity in ways once thought impossible.
Artistic exploration has evolved; computers are now the easel and the canvas, and programming languages the brushes. The creation and experience of art are expansive yet beautifully immersive. The art of code has taken centre stage. One of the conductors is artist Maxim Zhestkov; he employs computer code to connect physical and digital realities, investigating the affinity between the two realms and how they interact.
I love to experiment with different mediums, exploring the theories that shape the universe and discovering what is behind the curtain of our reality
His work is inspired by nature: physics, geometry, and space with the underlying essence of Soviet Constructivism and architectural design principles. Zhestkov seeks to decipher the laws of physics and nature depicted in ethereal yet meticulously constructed spaces unlocking the door to an immersive world. A visual dialect emphasised via a fusion of architecture, sculpture, movement and sound. Inside these rectilinear structures are spawning organisms composed of shapes, dots, and spheres of colour, fluidly morphing to their environmental circumstances. Zhestkov’s architectural fantasies make us contemplate our perception of reality in an esoteric fashion.
This last year has been very productive for the artist, exhibiting at the Decentral Art Pavilion in Venice and collaborating with London’s W1 Curates for his Waves exhibition. Currently, he has his work in the Kunsthalle Zürich exhibition DYOR (do your research), a mandate of the crypto scene. Zhestkov is gearing up for his latest project, Modules, an immersive VR and artistic microverse project. We caught up with him to learn more about inspiration, the creative process and his new project Modules.
Q: Hi Maxim! How are you doing? Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Please introduce yourself for those who do not know you.
Maxim Zhestkov: My name is Maxim Zhestkov, I’m an artist, and I love to experiment with different mediums, exploring the theories that shape the universe and discovering what is behind the curtain of our reality. I’m interested in exploring the thin membrane of our digital and physical world, and I do that by creating abstract representations of complex structures and ideas.
I started my artistic career around 20 years ago and studied art and design in many forms. I am the founder of two studios – Zhestkov.Studio and Media.Work. The first studio is 100% dedicated to my visual experiments and art practice, and the second envisions my creative practice in the commercial context. So far, we have had exciting collaborations with many influential brands like Sony PlayStation, Google, Microsoft, BMW, Nike, IKEA, Chanel, and Volvo to name a few.
Q: Can you tell us how you started in the arts and how art has played a role in your life?
Maxim Zhestkov: When I started this journey, there was nothing I did know about the arts. as suppose now, I still don’t know much. But my inspiration for creating digital work comes from being obsessed with visualising emotions that you can’t express in words. Also, it was always a way for me to escape from reality and connect to worlds beyond. From my perspective, the virtual space gives me countless opportunities for creativity because it allows us to merge architecture, sculpture, colour, movement, and sound into one immersive experience. Letting everything live and breathe beyond its physical capabilities with its own rules and logic. This is only really possible in digital art.
It is hard to separate art from my life as I see art as my whole life. I am very intertwined with it and see it as a force spreading across everything I do. Being and making are entangled, and I deal with this experience every day.
For me, art is about visualizing emotions and ideas that cannot be expressed in words. My journey through art is about understanding life and our universe – how it works, how processes are combined, how everything intersects, and how every action echoes through the lives of one who acted and of people surrounding them. This is the core element which kindled my fire to make art.
Q: Your practice adopts computer code as a visual language inspired by patterns of nature and the laws of physics, examining the connections between digital and physical spaces. How do you approach your practice, what inspires you, and what does the creative process looks like?
Maxim Zhestkov: I’m inspired by the fundamental principles of nature: physics, geometry, and space. I enjoy attempting to decipher the laws of physics in different ways. I see us all as products of physics and nature, so I examine reality and play with it in the spaces I create. I challenge myself to find some kind of game during my process and try to crack the code.
My creative process involves finding the right tools, whether physical or technological. I enjoy experimenting and seeing how far I can push the idea of form. I love to discover new media and use them to find answers to big questions.
What is the universe?
Why can we recreate physics so well in our simulations?
Do we live in a simulation?
Q: You have works on display at the Kunsthalle Zürich exhibition titled DYOR (do your research), which is a mandate of the crypto scene, and you are also preparing to launch your Metaverse and VR project, Modules. Can you tell us more about Modules, the essence of the idea and what we can expect to experience?
Maxim Zhestkov:Modules is my first step in building my artistic microverse, a place where I can create spaces, installations, and experiments that are not bound by the laws of physics in our physical world. It is an immersive virtual environment where different forms of art, architecture, sculpture, sound, and motion blend together.
Modules is my upcoming VR project about understanding the unbearable, undeniable, and impossible concept of the endless universe. In the digital space, we can access unlimited material and abandon many laws of our reality. This project forces me to explore the limits of creativity in the digital space, which at the moment, feels like it knows no bounds.
I try to answer some meta-questions through Modules. How can we understand the nothingness and emptiness of our world? How can we define and map it? These are some questions that I have been asking throughout my life, and I hope this digital space gives me the agency to create and reflect on them. My work is very much driven by architecture; I like to imagine the infinite capacity of the spaces we inhabit and their soundscapes. Every project in Modules will be a holistic, multisensorial production, and I plan to continue building on this universe throughout my entire life.
At its first iteration, Modules will be an 11-room gallery with incredible architecture and moving sculptures. It is designed to run on Oculus Quest 2 headset and PC, and we plan to launch it on major platforms in Q1-2, 2023. Of course, there are a lot of plans for the next big step, but it could be an excellent topic for our next conversation.
Q: Digital art in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) has been a hot topic in the art world for the past few years; despite their beauty, there is still some debate surrounding their legitimacy as art; what are your thoughts on this?
Maxim Zhestkov: For me, Blockchain and NFTs are powerful tools to be incorporated into the art world; they allow for ownership over their digital data and thus empower artists who use digital media to create freely. For me, it is probably one of the greatest technological contributions to the art world. They have powered countless platforms that have brought like-minded people to create together.
This new technology legitimizes our work as artists, musicians, and writers, who can make and sell our intellectual property, earning money not just through commercial projects but through producing our work. This felt impossible in the pre-NFT era because others could copy and reproduce our work without consequences.
In a way, NFTs and the blockchain are key in artists’ ownership of their work, but I view it only as one of the many mediums through which we can exchange and enjoy art. I am excited to see how this technology continues to grow and power the art world.
Q:The studio is the sacred temple of creativity. What are three things you can’t live without in your studio?
Maxim Zhestkov: First, having physical space is crucial to the way I work. I usually put sticky notes with my sketches everywhere on the office walls.
Second, I sketch a lot on paper – I love being tactile, and I hope to return to painting soon. I spent many years making art with traditional media, influencing how I make my digital works. I need to be in a ‘creative ping pong’ with the material; I need to be inside the work and touch it. Third, I can’t live without making mistakes. I always want to experiment with new mediums and tools to expand the horizons of my work.
Q: What’s next for Maxim Zhestkov?
Maxim Zhestkov: 2023 is an exciting and promising year for me. We have about six major projects to release, some of which are already more than a year in production.
All of these exciting projects centre around ideas of space, time, animation, and sound. Through my work, I love uncovering the mystery of the universe, which I, with my incredible team, explore daily. Through our creative process, we are finding and making keys to open doors which we didn’t even know existed.
Q: Lastly, what does art mean to you?
Maxim Zhestkov: Everyone has their own art and understanding of art. All abstract concepts, such as art or love, have too many different meanings in people’s heads because it is too discrete and too ephemeral. But for now, for me art is both the prison of reasoning and the heaven or freedom of being yourself.
Art is the greatest concept in the world; it is where you can be the creator of your own answers. The multitudes of comprehension in the realm of art continue to intrigue me, and the endless possibilities and intersection of meanings you can derive from it is my motivation to continue producing as an artist.