May 19, 2015, by Emma Thorne

Digital storytelling experience to uncover the hidden stories of Venice

Visitors to an international art exhibition can uncover the hidden stories behind one of Italy’s most iconic cities through their GPS-enabled smartphone, thanks to a project by The University of Nottingham which blurs the boundaries between digital and the arts.

The project ‘Hidden Stories of Venice’ has been developed as part of EM15, a new partnership between artist-led organisations and institutions from the East Midlands, UK, which involves the New Art Exchange, QUAD, One Thoresby Street, Beacon Art Project, the academic partners Nottingham Trent University and The University of Nottingham, with Horizon Digital Economy Research as digital engagement partner.

EM15 has organised one of the collateral events at the Venice Biennale 2015, Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf, a fully playable mini golf course for which nine artists were each commissioned to design a hole. Doug Fishbone’s course invited the artists to respond to ‘The Leisure Principle’, where consumer satisfaction is prioritised at all costs. Each of the holes can be read as an autonomous work, but by playing a round and immersing oneself in the game one can experience a coherent and, at times disturbing, sense of a world (mis)shapen by our consumer habits and desires.

Taking inspiration from the nine art installations at the EM15 exhibition in Venice, academics from the University’s School of Humanities and the Horizon Digital Economy Research have collaborated with the EM15 organisations to design a digital storytelling experience for visitors to perform while wandering the streets of Venice to uncover a playful side to the city.

Explorers keen to scratch beneath the city’s surface and explore the area of the Venice Biennale around the EM15 venue in San Pietro di Castello can use their mobile phones to uncover nine location-based stories intersecting art, local history, architecture and anecdotes.

At each location they can perform a related task designed by the artists and researchers, take a photo and share their geo performance on Twitter/Instagram with the hashtag #EM15Venice.

The project has been coordinated by Dr Laura Carletti from Horizon Digital Economy Research, who has an expertise in digital engagement and design of the visiting experience, and has involved her Horizon colleague Dr Ben Bedwell, interaction design researcher, who developed Wander Anywhere, the free location-based blogging platform used to deliver the interactive experience in Venice; Dr Gabriele Neher in the Department of Art History who used her extensive subject knowledge to provide a narrative that avoided the usual tourist clichés and provided a gritty sense of a complex space; and Matt Davies, Manager of the Digital Humanities Centre, who contributed to the development of the narrative and led the  search for images that might not make it on to the average holiday itinerary.

‘Hidden Stories of Venice’ is one of the several projects in which Wander Anywhere has united a multidisciplinary team from the University of Nottingham to deliver a creative visiting experience.  Wander Thoresby used the platform to reveal the cultural, industrial and historical heritage of the Thoresby Estate. The Grand Tour in the Marche adopted Wander Anywhere to experience the city of Ancona (Italy) through audio reproductions of travel journal entries of British tourists in the 19th century, and digitisations of sketches by Joseph Mallord William Turner from the Tate collection.

Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf opened in Venice on 9th May and will run until 26th July. The ‘Hidden Stories of Venice’ are accessible via smart phone in Venice and on the Web through the Wander Anywhere platform.


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