The Breadwinner
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Steven McNamara is the
founder of award-winning studio ROJI.
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E-mail: steven@roji.ie
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Press Releases
The Breadwinner / The Butler Gallery / Kilkenny 2018
Client: The Butler Gallery
Role: Exhibition Designer

Anna O'Sullivan
Framing: Bespoke & Co


In celebration of Cartoon Saloon's latest feature film The Breadwinner, the Butler Gallery commissioned the design and build of an interactive, multi-media exhibition, that included a diverse selection of original artwork by the studio team.

The film is honest in its portrayal of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and thus viewers encounter difficult real life issues. The challenge was to create an exhibition that is respectful of the serious nature of the film, while creating an engaging and vibrant space for visitors of all ages.

Within the film there are two distinct animation techniques used, correspondingly known as Real World and Story Word, the brief demanded that both these techniques be represented. Additionally there needed to be a space for viewing video content, and an interactive workshop area in which visitors could engage in some hands on activity in relation to the film content.

Exhibition Design

Each room in the gallery evolved out of a different aspect of the film.

Room 1 set an appropriately serious tone. Tall dark imposing walls with a solitary window frame referenced the family home or a prison cell depending on your point of view, while presenting the overarching themes. A projected light tracked across the window frame casting a moving shadow, referencing a recurring motive within the film, while life size cutouts introduced the main characters.

Room 2 explored the gritty dullness of Real World. Large stacked crates simultaneously orchestrated visitor movement, framed views of artworks on the walls and offered themselves as panel display units. The crate design was based on Afghan market stands seen in the film, and were constructed using similar wood jointing techniques. These were then sandblasted to expose the grain of the timber and achieve a weathered look and feel. Each crate had a pattern charred into it to absorb a different fragrant spice oil, filling the room with authentic Afghan market smells.

Room 3 became a screening/storytelling room inspired by scenes of traditional Afghan sitting rooms, creating an engaging environment to sit down, relax and view video content or listen to a story.

Room 4 explored the fantastical reality known as Story World. In its centre stood a freestanding decagon structure reminiscent of magical wells and structures seen in the film. The CNC (Computer Numerical Control) construction of the Decagon referenced the layered paper cut techniques used to create Story World itself. Within the Decagon audio and animations from the film looped, providing placeholders for visitors to position their own cut out artworks. This format created an environment where children and adults could take part regardless of skill levels, achieving a collaborative group result.

All elements of the exhibition were capable of being easily dismantled and reused in different venues. In particular, the crates in Gallery 2 were created to store and safely transport the framed artworks.

The use of tactile materials in combination with audio, smells and projected visuals created a sensory visitor experience. Additionally, each room was audio described and presented using Discovery Pens to maximise accessibility.