Exploring digital reconstructions of natural movement with artist Maxim Zhestkov

Moscow-based digital artist Maxim Zhestkov discusses his complex, algorithmic art that blends imagined architectures with naturalised motion.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jan 28, 2022

When thinking about architectural forms in real-world conditions, one is often limited by aspects of structural integrity, utility, and even finance. But, by using 3D visualisation software, architects can create intricate, even shifting and evolving forms, with a great degree of creative freedom. In many cases such as that of Moscow-based Maxim Zhestkov, this has blurred the line between architecture and art, and we are much the richer for it. Artist such as Zhestkov are pushing the boundaries of the forms and structures visualised within digital arts practices. Discussing his artistic journey, Zhestov tells STIR, “Studying at my home city of Ulyanovsk, I chose architecture as my major at first. After some time, I realised that I really don't want to be confined by real world limitations that are quintessential for working as an architect. Though I have been admiring architecture and paying attention to it in my work ever since, I decided to shift my focus towards a field in which you can construct your own systems of perception.” Zhestkov was simultaneously taking art lessons at this time, and would change his major to graphic design. Over time, he would begin integrating his gathered experience into his practice, creating a fascinating composite body of work in the process. The artist seems quite happy with his decision, and says, “I am able to include different angles of interaction with the world in my work, and I always aim to expand my worldview by learning about new perspectives.”

‘Elements’ is a great example of the artist’s ability to create bafflingly simple and yet uncanny environments | Maxim Zhestkov | STIRworld
Elements is a great example of the artist’s ability to create bafflingly simple and yet uncanny environments Image: Maxim Zhestkov

Zhestkov traces his fascination with the digital even further back than his time in college, right back to his childhood in fact. He explains, “I was always fascinated by computers, ever since I got my first one at the age of six. When I went to art school, I decided to combine my interest in digital technologies and visual arts, so I started experimenting with illustration.” There exists within his work, a distinctly cinematographic element as well, which comes from his interest in animation and its cinematography. As Zhestkov explored these, he became increasingly preoccupied with inculcating motion within his practice. This would lead him to creating abstract digital animations through key framing. He tells STIR, “Motion is an integral part of my art projects, and even though technology is already developed enough to create without the need for deep knowledge regarding animation, this experience was really valuable for my understanding of movement and storytelling.

04 mins watch ‘Artificial Organisms’ | Maxim Zhestkov | STIRworld
Artificial Organisms by Maxim Zhestkov Video: Maxim Zhestkov

Zhestkov’s process begins with creating complex algorithms based on real-world physics, in a software called Houdini. He sets certain initial conditions and ground rules for the interaction of elements within his piece, but can never be truly sure of which way a project will go, and so when he begins his simulation, his results often amaze him before anybody else. He is placed well among a growing number of digital practitioners whose craft makes them as though mediators between us, the audience, and a wider pantheon of intricately linked natural intelligences that come together within their work. He says, “Natural forces that are coded by these algorithms and maths are often a source of inspiration for me. They are a foundation of our reality and a universal language that is spoken by everyone as we all understand biological and physical patterns intuitively, and even when we are not sure about what exactly it is that we are seeing, we feel the familiarity of these principles. By translating them to motion and integrating them within my practice, I aim to convey a certain emotion or idea, but at the same time, I am also trying to decipher the principle that I used, in order to find unexpected beauty and meaning in it.” For Zhestkov’s Artificial Organisms, his core idea was to imagine how artificial intelligence could manifest itself in digital spaces. To this end, he began by developing shapes and movements seen within marine animals. The idea behind this shape is that it's comprehensible for humans, and it's natural for us to build new worlds using well-known structures from our material reality. However, this is only an interpretation made from human standpoint, and as artificial intelligence (AI) does not have a biological foundation, it might resile from our object-based reality altogether.

A still from ‘Computations’ that shows perfectly how Zhestkov plays with scale| Maxim Zhestkov | STIRworld
A still from Computations that shows perfectly how Zhestkov plays with scale Image: Maxim Zhestkov

Zhestkov possesses a strong thematic focus on locating the connection between the tangible and the digital. Interestingly, when he discusses this, he does not mention some of the more cutting-edge facets of digital technology such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices as indicating a merging of the two realms. Instead, he seems to view the entire technological body in its wider sense, as it stands today, as a growing Metaverse that is currently absorbing phenomenon and objects from our world, but will soon have the potential to become something else entirely. Perhaps we will be able to tap into this realm as the artist has described it. He believes that through engaging with it, we will not only be able to rethink building new worlds, but will inevitably develop a stronger grasp on our own, as by defining that which is not of ours, we better understand what is.

04 mins watch ‘Computations’| Maxim Zhestkov | STIRworld
Computations by Maxim Zhestkov Video: Maxim Zhestkov

Zhestkov’s work Computations has been exhibited recently at Unit London as part of a group show. All works featured at the show are to be sold as NFTs on the Institut platform. He feels as though the NFT market is here to stay, and that we are very much the better for it, as it presents an excellent opportunity for artists to locate audiences that are willing to support them. Discussing the direction, he would like to see digital art move towards in the near future, he tells STIR, “I would like to see art become better incorporated in our daily lives via technology. We will be able to expand on familiar experiences through the access we gain to entirely new layers of reality, right through our devices, and I hope that my work becomes a part of this epochal change.” One hopes that the artist’s vision of the future is realised, and that his work retains a strong place in coming times.

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