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Mobile app gives cultural history tour in virtual reality

Norrbyskär is one of Umeå Municipality’s ten most popular tourist destinations. Charged Utopia is an interactive mobile app developed by RISE that guides visitors through the unique cultural history of the island. A follow-up virtual reality project asks questions about identity and belonging.

Just under 25 miles south of Umeå, the island of Norrbyskär boasts a unique cultural heritage. In its heyday, the island was home to Europe’s largest sawmill. Created by industrialist Frans Kempe at the end of the nineteenth century as a utopian society, workers were provided with homes. a school and healthcare facilities in exchange for abstention from alcohol and trade unionism.

Charged Utopia guides the visitors

The island is now a museum where visitors can explore Norrbyskär’s cultural heritage using the Charged Utopia app. Visitors are localised using GPS so that as they approach one of the six stations located around the island – all of which can be seen on the map provided in the app – a voice presentation will relate the history of that particular site, both practically and politically.

These histories, written by Pernilla Glaser of RISE, are intended to evoke the likely circumstances on the island during the working life of the sawmill. They also touch on existential and political issues that remain as relevant today as they were during the Norrbyskär’s industrial flowering.

“Our intention is to make people think about how a community’s ethics relate to and influence the individual. This is a crucial theme in our time,” says Ambra Trotto, studio director at RISE in Umeå.

Interactive exhibition

The project culminated in a unique interactive exhibition combining history, facts, new technology and art, which took place on 19 August 2016 and was followed by a panel debate.

“It was very interesting and grippingly executed, with a combination of dramatic reconstruction and narration taking place at various locations; something that made me think along new lines. What was built out there on the island was to a certain extent an exclusionary utopian society; people lived according to given rules and not everyone was welcome. This naturally touches on things we see today in the influx of refugees,” says Peter Juneblad, business alderman at Umeå Municipality.

Attract broader groups of visitors

Anna Molin, business developer focusing on tourism at Umeå Municipality, tells why Umeå Municipality chosen to participate in this project and what was there driving force.

“Norrbyskär and RISE approached us with the proposal. We felt that it would be interesting to approach a tourist attraction in a new and interactive manner. We also believed that it might attract broader groups of visitors,” explains Anna Molin, business developer focusing on tourism at Umeå Municipality.

For Anna Molin herself, the project was an opportunity to experience how it feels when others decide the rules for what constitutes acceptable, and unacceptable, behaviour. She was forced to address how she would have fitted into the rigid society on the island.

“That special day demonstrated what we feel is acceptable for others to decide, and what isn’t.”

Published: 2018-10-25