Alexey Kashpersky

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HIV in 3D
Alexey Kashpersky Creates a Microscopic Poetics of the Virus
by Angela Leroux-Lindsey

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, 2013, ZBrush, 3D Max and CellPACK plug-in, dimensions variable
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, 2013, ZBrush, 3D Max and CellPACK plug-in, dimensions variable

Alexey Kashpersky has always been fascinated by the small mechanisms that power life forms. As a kid, discovering the wriggling components of water under a microscope was a defining moment—for a while he dreamed about becoming an oceanographer. But the arts pulled at him harder, and after earning a degree in sculpture, he’s now an acclaimed computer graphic artist. Often he uses the microscopic systems of the human body as inspiration, and creates astonishingly beautiful renderings of objects that are typically captured as drab illustrations—neurons, viruses, even cancer cells.

Especially beautiful and haunting are Kashpersky’s 3D models of the human immunodeficiency virus. Using cutting-edge technology, Kashpersky has created an artful series that brings a new perspective to HIV visualization. His innovative work quickly caught the attention of other designers: Last winter, he entered a portfolio of 3D HIV images to the autoPACK Visualization Challenge, an international contest sponsored by CGSociety, and won first prize.

“HIV is this unique and dangerous small creature that is responsible for a very big problem in the world,” says Kashpersky. “No one had ever attempted to image the virus the way I planned to. I knew it would be an exciting project, and it was the first time I entered a competition of such magnitude. I can’t describe how many emotions I felt when I won. I’m very happy.”

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Kashpersky’s approach to the challenge of creating accurate yet artistic models of HIV required a ton of legwork: He analyzed hundreds of photos, sketched dozens of drafts, and experimented widely with the AutoPACK 3D model, including a program called CellPACK. Kashpersky felt strongly that his work captures the spirit of HIV, and not just the biological form. Also on his mind were cultural entanglements of the virus. In modeling HIV, Kashpersky was cognizant of the deep emotion attached to its visualization.

“I attempted to express the psychological depth of the virus in these images,” he said. “Fear of the unknown is something we all experience. Working to turn something unseen into something close to reality is my way of interpreting that fear into the feeling of passion that physical beauty inspires.”

The 3D models themselves are otherworldly: It’s an astonishing transformation from the bleak, amorphous images we’re used to seeing. Kashpersky’s virus comes to life and resembles nothing less than a deep-sea creature or deep-space galaxy that might be filmed for The Discovery Channel. Each rendering is exquisitely detailed, and is imbued with a sense of self-containment, almost as if the virus were its own cosmos. It’s a purposeful poetic comparison, and Kashpersky took a few small creative liberties in his interpretation. “I consciously decided to incorporate some artistic exaggeration, and was nervous about how the judges would react,” he said. “They know exactly what HIV looks like! So I’m especially pleased to have won, and feel like I accomplished what I wanted to express in the form–despite, in some way, violating the ‘truth’—and am grateful to be understood and appreciated.”

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Kashpersky’s success is also a testament to the power of art to speak across cultural differences. HIV/AIDS affects people in every corner of the globe, and the emotions Kashpersky injects into his clinical subject matter are universal. Kashpersky himself is originally from the Ukraine, and relocated to New Jersey in 2012 to accept a position at Thomas Direct Studios, a design house focused on medical animation and illustration that aims to educate people about science using art. He was wooed by the studio’s president, Brandon Pletsch, who was impressed with what he saw of Kashpersky’s work on the CG Society’s Web site. In a press release, Pletsch wrote, “I knew the moment I saw these elaborate, detailed, beautiful organic images that it would be a great complement to our talent pool, and that this guy needed to be on our team.”

Kashpersky is also the founder of the on-line platform ARQUTE, a Ukrainian company that gives a diverse group of artists (including ARTTalk.ru, one of the largest Russian-language art collaborations) a platform with which to feature their work and participate in a creative community. Since 2007, thousands of artists have become involved, and in 2012, ARQUTE printed its first full-color art book. It’s a gorgeous testament to the cross-cultural and transformative aesthetic that drives Kashpersky’s work, and reflects the entanglement of art and science that has garnered him international attention. “Working with 3D graphics is how I express myself in the world,” Kashpersky said. “I convey my passion for the microscopic through art.”

For more information about the artist, log on to: www.kashpersky.com.

Angela Leroux-Lindsey interviewed Guy Anthony for the November 2013 issue’s The Culture of AIDS.