Questioning the future of digital art with Maxim Zhestkov, the artist behind W1 Curates and the new immersive exhibition FLANNELS

In the heart of central London, W1 Curates and FLANNELS have teamed up to curate a series of exhibitions championing the world’s most exciting and innovative digital artists. The program currently features an immersive and stunningly beautiful outdoor and indoor installation titled WAVES by Maxim Zhestkov. The artwork spans bespoke LED digital screens across the entire facade of the store and culminates in the hypnotic elevated basement space with floor-to-ceiling digital screens.

The extraordinary public exhibition combines state-of-the-art technology with moving and emotionally resonant artwork to create a deeply moving digital and physical environment. As Maxim Zhestkov’s first-ever fully immersive solo exhibition, this is a powerful debut that sets him apart as an entirely new kind of art practitioner in the digital age.

Overall, the exhibition meditates on its titular phenomena, WAVES as a symbol of change and an interface between digital and physical systems. We may first associate the word waves with organic ideas around tides and sea shores, but it also speaks directly to digital notions like wifi connections and metaphorical concepts around cultural ideological shifts. By approaching the waves in a broader sense, the exhibition blurs the boundaries between the organic, digital, social and political entities that they can symbolize. He visualizes our interconnectedness with nature and machine as a web of waves flowing through and through us, as the boundaries between these elements become fluid and malleable.

Exhibition W1 Curates and FLANNELS, WAVES has the power to introduce digital art into our daily experience for the first time and to create a new kind of “installation art” suited to our contemporary context. I caught up with Maxim Zhestkov, just at the beginning of the exhibition, to learn more about his practice, this pioneering exhibition and the potential future of digital art.

How are waves understood as both a motif and a driving force in this project?

WAVES started as an exploration: I wanted to connect all the windows of the exterior screen of W1 Curates into a single canvas. During the research phase, the notion of “wave” turned out to be so multifaceted, both visually and conceptually, that it became the driving force behind the project.

As for the interior – an almost 360-degree experience, divisible into four corners and covered by the two-dimensional representation of a stream of particles – it always promised to be a grand canvas for wave interaction.

Describe your process as a practitioner. How did this project go from an idea, through phases of experimentation and development to its ultimate display at FLANNELS as part of W1 Curates?

I create sculptures with computer simulations. As I started using different forces and processes to interact with particle volumes, it became clear what worked and what didn’t – what would be a meditative, playful, or tense experience. Each movement conveys an emotion, so I experimented with different movements to create different moods, playing with the link between the human and the content.

Creating a 3D scene involves many factors. After setting the conditions, you then observe the result. You constantly identify errors and then adjust the conditions. In this positive feedback loop, the human curator is extremely important. How one sees, how one directs the process, how one decides the outcome – all of this is crucial. My method of creation is a conversation with a machine in the language of physics.

It’s a complicated process, involving dynamics, form, light, color and space. Making a project feel “complete” requires constant renegotiation with the unpredictability of simulation.

How did you develop the skills to work in this way? What was your educational background? How does your current work relate to your previous commercial projects for brands such as Adidas, IKEA, BMW, Google, Playstation and Adobe?

Well, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life studying software, trying to balance the limitations of software with my creative aspirations. Then, working with big brands repeatedly presented the challenge of finding a creative approach to a given task. This was a constant exercise in limiting piracy, because in reality it’s impossible to deliver exactly what a customer wants. But during this time, I learned to think like the others. I can now see different viewpoints in my own art projects.

What prompted you to become an independent artist?

Big brands tend to play it safe. The art world leaves more room for abstraction, which is an exciting prospect.

What reception have you received from the art world as a whole, given that digital art is still a fairly new area of ​​development?

The art world was wary of digital art until recently. It was like at my university twenty years ago, where everyone was skeptical of computers because of the charge that the devices do everything for you. Painting, on the other hand, does not cause philosophical discussions about the elements that come from the creator and the uncontrollable elements that come from the painting.

When working with simulations, the lines are harder to draw, because it’s obvious (at least to me) that some things emerge by chance. The question “Who is the creator?” has no simple answer, in this case, so we still have to think about the place of digital art in the global art world.

I consider my work to be ‘art’ rather than specifically ‘digital art’. Art is a way to connect people’s emotions; I don’t think this medium is very important. If anything facilitates this interaction of emotions, it is art.

What is your relationship with art history and where do you find inspiration? Do you often look at the artwork in the traditional sense, or are you more into other modes of creative production such as video games, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. ? I ask this question because there is something about your work that reminds me of the sculptural forms of Anish Kapoor.

Anish Kapoor was one of the most important artists for me. He showed me that a contemporary approach to sculpture was far more poignant than anything I had studied in college – mainly the Renaissance and earlier eras.

Studying form and volume and seeing the work of other artists always opens up something new. Anthony Gormley is one of my favorite artists – he rejects pure realism in pursuit of his own imagination. Either that or he’s trying to imagine how a person feels in a particular situation.

Games and AR/VR experiences are other incredible sources of inspiration. Yet it’s always tempting to pay too much attention to a tool and try to find answers in technology. It’s crucial to start with an idea of ​​what you’re trying to say and how. Writing and drawing on paper avoids “playing with tools”.

What do you see as the potential future of artistic production in this emerging digital space? What new possibilities are on the horizon?

I think real digital art hasn’t emerged yet. The virtual realities of the future will transform everything around us into content. Only a fraction of what we see today is content. In the future, it will be one hundred percent.

We will interact with the whole world around us through interfaces – not connected by text and hyperlinks. The interfaces will be spatial and abstract. They will effectively create spaces in which we live.

I’m finishing up a big VR project called “Modules”, which my studio and I worked on for a year. I’m sure it will open new paths for artists who want to build their own universe.

How has our understanding of ‘art’ evolved and how is this becoming relevant to your work?

I think art is changing from something elitist to something more direct and familiar. It is a transmission of emotions through different tools and environments – architecture, animation and sound. We become more integrated into these worlds created with an artistic approach, so that art continues to expand into our lives.

How do you think your piece will work architecturally and in the context of the urban space in which it will be viewed? What interactions and new dialogues will emerge?

The artwork outside W1 Curates has become an interplay of two directions, connected at the corner. When you stand on this vertex and see how virtual matter moves between different walls, you see the interaction of two planes that only meet at this special place.

Questions about the architecture of the future and its connection to movement are among the most important: should our homes be static or should they have the ability to change? How would our approach to architecture change if we spend the majority of our lives in digital environments?

Interiors and buildings of the future must be created in digital worlds. There are millions of companies currently working on mobile apps, and there will be tens of millions of companies creating digital spaces.

Digital spaces can free us from matter and allow us to perceive abstractions, but they will still need to have some references to familiar reality. Our minds have been formed for millions of years in the material world. Will people be able to adapt to new digital realities? Will they need spaces that have gravity? One of my next projects is going to be an exploration of this idea.

What do you hope viewers will take away from their experience of the exhibition?

Everyone must experience their own emotion. I think people will experience themselves, unleash their imagination, reminisce or imagine the future. Everyone has their point of view, and everything is extremely personal, not just the art.

The interior creates a meditative breathing experience with the artwork. When I see the waves moving, I think of the micro and macro levels of reality. Everything is united and we are part of it. I love the metaphysical and abstract layers of experience. It demonstrates something that can be observed endlessly: how matter perceives time through change.

What’s next for you and your practice? Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?

In a month, I publish “Modules” – a virtual gallery that will expand my whole life and include all my projects. Soon I will also launch a gallery project in Zurich — more details soon. Another project will open in Amsterdam, in which I will connect our reality to digital spaces and explore how the membrane between the physical and digital world is getting thinner and thinner.

Waves by Maxim Zhestkov is at W1 Curates, Flannels London Oxford Street until September 7


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