The second work in the exhibition is largely a soothing counterpoint to the anxiety and tension of the larger screen-installation in the other room. The viewer will feel more relaxed standing in front of the picture window that allows a view on a virtual landscape. Every now and then the blinds close and the scene changes to a new landscape. The ever-changing landscape adapts to the time of day as well as the latitude and longitude of where it is displayed. By means of User Interface (UI) software, Robak matches the virtual lighting and position of the sun with those in real life. The title Northstar is an optimistic allusion to the human desire to explore and move forward.
Northstar is a procedurally generated simulation of an infinite walk through an ever-changing virtual landscape. It brings to mind the ‘walking simulator’ genre in gaming, which has been called ‘gaming’s most detested genre’ because it seems to get the premise of video games wrong. Video games are supposed to be about running around and shooting stuff. After all, the modern form of the medium has trickled down from the military-industrial complex. However, the walking simulator genre is more focused on peace and narrative. Robak has always loved a walk through the woods. “The natural world is the perfect panacea to the bubbling anxiety of modern life,” he said. Ironically, the artist decided to try to capture this feeling in an endless virtual environment.
Robak’s work often takes on a voyeuristic quality, traveling through other people’s houses and rooms. As a viewer one gets immersed in a very indulging environment. The shiny and sparkly landscapes created by the artist remind us of commercials, trying to work with the viewer and shutting down their critical faculties. His work aims to touch the viewer, like an advertisement, but also adds a critical edge to it. Robak said, “I’ve been playing video games obsessively forever, but the fact they’re a very easy pleasure, a way to escape and not be critical – that’s something I’m always dealing with. I go back and forth between being fully immersed in the game and being detached from it and analyzing it. Something that’s great about video games is that they offer a massively visual experience. The creators of the video game are very generous to the players. They’ve created this really beautiful and detailed world and you just get to go at it, whereas artwork tends to be a little bit more withholding visually, which is what creates the distance that we like in artworks.”