With hypnotic visuals and futuristic concepts, Maxim Zhestkov, for almost two decades, poses questions about the nature of the physical and digital worlds. His works are virtual sculptures based on computer simulations and algorithms that exist in bespoke digital galleries, challenging the traditional importance of museums as places for the perception of art. At the core of Maxim’s artworks lies realisticity, as every project is based on algorithms that accurately capture the laws of nature.
One of the pioneering artists in the realm of digital imagery, Zhestkov has been creating his computer worlds for over two decades. As the artist describes, his fascination with computer graphics began with the first computer that he got at the age of six, the moment when he found out that he can create multiple worlds with the help of new technologies.
Experimenting with digital illustration as a teen, Maxim decided to study architecture and graphic design at university to learn more about visual arts and to integrate this knowledge into his practice. From 2D worlds, Maxim became interested in three-dimensional artificial universes, and, since then, 3D graphics and motion continue to be his main media for self-expression.
For Zhestkov, his work was always about decoding the real world with the help of digital tools. Having started his practice in the 2000s, the artist did not have access to 3D tools that were developed later and that have laws of physics incorporated into their algorithms. To get closer to reality, Zhestkov conducted experiments with real-world objects, examined their motion, and, using this information, animated digital objects manually. This hacking approach was defining for digital artists of that era, such as demosceners, who were pushing forward the possibilities of their computer, modifying the software to create unusual visual and sound effects.
Another characterizing trait of Zhestkov’s pieces is their totality. The artist is responsible for every aspect of the work — abstract computer simulations that serve as his main characters, architecture, and sound. Compounding different media, Zhestkov constructs experiences with close attention to every detail and makes every seemingly insignificant thing an important part of his vision and story.
In his new series called Artificial Organisms, Maxim makes a step further and moves from ambiguously sentient yet amorphous matter to fully developed creatures. They keep fluent movement seen in other systems created by the artist but become more structured and seem to stick to a more strict set of rules. Organized similarly to the creatures existing in the real world, Zhestkov’s digital organisms remind of aquatic animals, looking organic and digital at the same time.
This ambivalent feeling is the lens that Zhestkov uses to look at the development of artificial intelligence technologies. Based on the structure of our brain, they turn out to be different and not fully comprehensible, even to their creators. Using human knowledge and structures developed by nature, AI transforms the initial patterns into something unpredictable. It is not a part of nature and not a product of the culture—it is something in between that mutates by developing its own principles.
This uncertainty about the inner working of an AI is the reason it, potentially, needs to be confined, at least in its infancy. One of the means of control for such a technology is what theorists call an AI box, a hardware and software system that restricts AI’s access to the outer world and blocks any possible interference with electromagnetic signals and its contacts with people. Locked in a cage, an AI is treated like a form of life, an animal in a zoo or in a research lab observed by silent spectators.
Zhestkov invites his viewers to think of ways to coexist with these unknown creatures. His organisms are not hidden, they exist in gallery-like spaces that naturally induce the viewers to slow down and to try to begin a dialogue. Patiently communicating, humans and non-humans can find ways to exchange experiences and to empathize with each other in a beneficent symbiosis. Looking at them through the windows of our devices, we become closer to rethinking our world and relationships with other actors having a different perception of everything around us.
The first and the second NFTs from the series are published on SuperRare.