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Mobile phone app brings Alice in Wonderland to Durham University’s Botanic Garden

A mobile phone app will bring classic children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to life at Durham University’s Botanic Garden from this weekend (Saturday 4 May).

Visitors will be able to use the Alice Dalí AR app to play a game where they search for art and music based on Lewis Carroll’s much-loved book.

Thanks to Augmented Reality (AR) technology they will be able to see 12 paintings by renowned artist Salvador Dalí, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, on their mobile phones at different points around the garden.

Dalí’s artwork will be accompanied by newly composed piano music by Dr Svetlana Rudenko, composer and researcher with Haunted Planet Studios and visiting researcher at the Department of Music at Durham University, alongside narrations from the story itself.

The app officially launches at the Botanic Garden, on Durham’s South Road, on Saturday 4 May and the game will be a permanent fixture of the garden.

Produced by award-winning game developer Haunted Planet Studios, it is their first installation in the UK following similar projects in Ireland and Denmark.

The game forms part of a research study, testing its intergenerational impact on children and their parents or carers. It has been designed particularly for children aged five to 12.

Dr Kelly Jakubowski, Associate Professor of Music Psychology, in Durham University’s Department of Music, said: “Augmented Reality digital technology is a fun and interactive way to engage with art and music inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the Botanic Garden is an ideal setting for this.

“Initial findings suggest that the game encourages cultural engagement and co-operation between people of different ages while also making them feel more socially connected.

“The research we will be carrying out, based upon people’s experiences of using the app, will explore the benefits games like this have on learning about new art and music styles whilst engaging with new technologies.”

The research study is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dr Rudenko, Dr Jakubowski, and Dr Mads Haahr of Trinity College Dublin and Haunted Planet Studios.

The app works via GPS navigation, through which mobile phone users follow a navigation screen to locate the artworks within the Botanic Garden. The musical soundtrack serves as a clue that the user is getting close to a piece of virtual art, setting the scene for the art to appear on the screen. Users can take photos of the virtual art and save these within a storybook.

Dr Mads Haahr, of Trinity College Dublin and Haunted Planet Studios, said: “The app was inspired by artless walks during the pandemic when all art galleries and concert venues were closed. Svetlana specialises in compositions for art and works a lot with artists-synaesthetes, which resulted in our first art/music augmented reality app for outdoors called Synaesthesia Gallery AR.

”In the app, Mads’ voice narration and Svetlana’s piano track were recorded live as a dialogue between the two forms, complementing Dalí’s paintings. The idea is that people will perceive the emotional charge of the music and the characters in addition to the text.

Dr Svetlana Rudenko, of Haunted Planet Studios and a visiting researcher at Durham University’s Department of Music, said: “For Alice Dalí AR, I took the opposite approach, starting with Salvador Dalí’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I had visited the Dalí museum in Paris many years earlier and had been inspired by the illustrations to compose music.”

After the music and narration were recorded, the 12 chapters were placed around the Botanic Garden in places where the art and music will resonate with the features of the garden. For example, Alice’s encounter with the Caterpillar is near the Botanic Garden’s giant mushroom sculptures.

The game has been play-tested several times to ensure that the encounters are all in locations where they are accessible.

Alice Dalí AR was produced by Haunted Planet Studios, a developer of Serious Games based in Dublin, Ireland. Led by Dr Haahr, of the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin, the company has produced locative augmented reality games since 2010. Most of the games are based on art, music and literature, such as the award-winning “Bram Stoker’s Vampires,” which is set in the historic Trinity College Dublin campus where the famous author of Dracula was a student from 1864 to 1870.


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