Maxim Zhestkov: Simulation Hypothesis

Maxim Zhestkov: Simulation Hypothesis
In collaboration with Social Muse: Unit London and Sketch hosted digital artist and designer Maxim Zhestkov’s first solo exhibition during Digital Art Week.


Maxim Zhestkov (1985, Russia) is a motion graphic artist whose practice centres around the use of digital media to shift between boundaries across fluid visual landscapes. His signature style leverages shapely universal code to represent the building blocks of complex structures, exploring our emotions, behaviours and thought processes, as well as the relationships, life and planets within our multi-verse.

Buildings are brought to life as forms and functions move and interact. Beautifully choreographed, each piece produces its own rhythmic patterns that play with their surroundings. Zhestkov’s work ripples through the traditional white cube gallery environment, and questions how art is to be viewed and experienced amidst the increasing influence of the digital sphere.

Born and raised in Ulyanovsk, Max has been passionate about digital illustration and video games since childhood. He eventually studied architecture and graphic design at Ulyanovsk State University, and has worked with a roster of clients including Google, Microsoft, Fox, MTV, IDEO, BMW, Ford, Nokia and FutureBrand.

Although digitally-native, Zhestkov’s work is informed by traditional sculptural practices; referring to the ways in which 20th century Russian Constructivists, such as Vladimir Tatlin, used pure shapes and clean geometric lines to construct enigmatic pieces, Zhestkov presents a multitude of simple forms and programmes them to morph – spawning new entities.

In his artistic practice, he aims to “create a visual language that combines design, architecture, and computer graphics, through realistic digital simulations based on metaphysics.” His main interest lies in exploring and re-imagining the algo-rhythms produced to the beat of natural and man-made processes. As well as a technical tour-de-force, his work is a social commentary on the ways in which our experiences of the world around us can be radically altered and expanded.


The Limitations Of Logic And Language

Maxim Zhestkov’s first solo show with Unit London virtually explores true realities and artificial intelligences. Inspired by the works of Noam Chomsky, Zhestkov’s exhibition, Simulation Hypothesis, connects the themes of origin and narrative – using modern media to return to the fundamental building blocks of life. His work positions even the smallest details as agents of ‘true meaning’: the process being iterative, with each step informing the next.


“Zhestkov pursues questions around the nature of the universe and its contemporary affect. He plays with a visuality that precedes written language, from a time in which early humans used clay to make vessels and figurines. Zhestkov’s tools, however, are those of programming and software: in dialogue with machines and algorithms, the artist works with the functions of Artificial Intelligence. In doing so, Zhestkov, like the natural inspiration he finds in evolution by natural selection, relishes exploiting the errors his processes introduce.” – Dr Bergit Arends, Curator & Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art


We are currently living through an unprecedented era of life and 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 un-imaginable.

Mental exploration and expression have evolved; computers are the easel and the canvas, with a vast array of programming languages acting as the brush. The creation and experience of such realms has become even more beautifully immersive. The art of code has taken centre stage, and Maxim Zhestkov is one of its conductors; investigating the affinity between mind and media, through the ways in which these viscerally interact.

Layers (2018), Computations (2019), and Artificial Organisms (2021) are all celebrated collections which demonstrate this conviction. In Layers, Zhestkov opens the door to novel dimensions, featuring black monoliths unveiling a rich inner life. As layers of vivid colour emerge, the original shapes are transformed in ways unbeknownst to the ordinary universe. Zhestkov’s architectural fantasies make us contemplate our perception of reality in an esoteric fashion.

This last year has been particularly productive for him, exhibiting at the Decentral Art Pavilion in Venice and collaborating with London’s W1 Curates. He currently has his work in the Kunsthalle Zürich exhibition DYOR (do your research), a mandate of the crypto scene. For Zhestkov, Blockchain and NFTs are powerful tools that are yet to be fully realised by the art world; they allow for greater ownership over digital data and empower artists to create freely by reducing the impact of imitation, fraud and artifice in the space.


Digital Media Membranes

Creating abstract representations of complex structures and ideas, Zhestkov tries to carve some separation between his creative and commercial pursuits. Having started his artistic career around 20 years ago, he now has two main studios: Zhestkov.Studio and Media.Work. The first is dedicated to his visual experiments and artistic practice, while the second re-envisions this for a commercial context.

Zhestkov describes his main motivations as expressive and escapist, using a medium that lets everything live and breathe beyond its physical capabilities, to the tune of its own logic. He is also gearing up for his latest project, Modules, an immersive VR micro-verse which claims to centre around the unbearable, undeniable, and un-imaginable concept of an endless universe: “Every project in Modules will be a holistic, multi-sensory production, and I plan to continue building on this universe over the course of my entire life.”

At its inception, Modules was an 11 room gallery exhibition. But it has also been designed to run on the Oculus Quest 2 headset and PC, with plans to expand onto other major platforms in future. Waves (2022) was another emblematic example of Zhestkov’s uncanny ability to transform a space into a HypGnosis. As physical architecture collides with the intangible, viewers are prompted to re-consider the relationships within and between their environments, reflecting on how the latter has the potential to transform the former.

Zhestkov works by incorporating snippets of his own code into software applications for 3D animation, enabling him to create unique sculptures that unfold and grow in captivating ways. In his Metaphysics series (2022), he interrogates the relationship between time and digital matter. Here, millions of monochromatic spheres move in perfect synchronicity, defying the laws of gravity with compelling grace. Like the Constructivist rejection of realism, Zhestkov subverts the laws of physics in order to question the nature of perception and demonstrate new experiential possibilities.

“Everyone has their own creative practice and understanding of art. All abstract concepts, such as art or love, have so many different meanings to people because it’s so ephemeral. For me, art is both the prison of reasoning and the heaven of freedom that comes with being yourself. It is where you can be the creator of your own answers.”