Form x Content — Planet City: Ryan Griffen & Liam Young

Form x Content — Planet City: Ryan Griffen & Liam Young

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N'arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM: Mirambeek beek. Boon wurrung Nairm derp bordupren   uther willam. That means welcome to our beautiful  home, the lands of the two great bays, Nairm,  Port Phillip Bay, Marrin, Western Port Bay.  We're here at the Monash University campus   and it is about celebrating knowledge,  yulendji. It's also about respect,   respecting the Country that you're now  a part of. And it's also djeembana,  

how you will build a stronger community, how  do we unite community within Monash University.   And it's about respecting  sacred ground or Parbyn-ata,   Mother Earth. These are the guiding pillars  of Wurrung biik, the law of the land.   Come with a purpose. Womindjeka mirambeek  beek. Boon wurrung Nairm derp bordupren   uther willam. Ngondjin. Alex Brown: Hi everyone. My name is Alex Brown and  I'm a Senior Lecturer in Architecture  

here at MADA Art Design and Architecture. And we  have another installment of the Form x Content   series today. I'd just like to introduce  the series briefly, I guess, by saying that   Form x Content is a series that engages with  the ideas, histories, sites and critical   questions of our time. And in Semester 1  the series is focusing on sustainability,   collaboration and the ways in which First Nations  artists centre Country in their practices. So the first thing I suppose I would like  to do is acknowledge that I'm recording this   process here from the Caulfield Campus in  Melbourne, on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri   and Boon wurrung people of the Kulin Nation.  I'd like to pay my respects to Elders past,  

present and emerging and acknowledge that this  place where I am is on land that was never ceded.   And I might just dive straight into it  and introduce our speakers for today. We're really lucky to be joined by storyteller  Ryan Griffen, he's joining us from Sydney,   and speculative architect Liam Young, who's based  at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. And I thought I would   just hand over to Liam and Ryan from there to talk  about their work and also their project and their   collaborative work on Planet City. So hi Liam  and hi Ryan. Thank you so much for joining us. Ryan Griffen: Thank you. Liam Young: Thanks. Thanks so much Alex. I'm just going  

to share my screen briefly. What I thought we'd  do, I'm going to introduce myself just generally,   a little bit and then I'm going to hand  over to Ryan who's going to do the same and then I'm going to come back and talk a bit  about the collaborative project Planet City that   Ryan and I both contributed on and worked on  together as a bit of a framing for a broader   conversation about the roles of speculative  fiction and worldbuilding. So we'll look   through the lens of Planet City to start that  conversation, but then more broadly start then to   talk about Ryan's extraordinary work on shows like  Cleverman and the associated comic book series. So let me dive in.  

I'm going to start here which is a little showreel  of some of my stuff going on in the background.   So my name is Liam Young and I am a speculative  architect. And really what that means,   is that I don't design buildings, but instead  I work between documentary and fiction to   tell stories about the global and urban and  architectural implications of new technologies. So we borrow from the techniques of  fiction, film and performance to collect   and visualise stories of both real and fictional,  in order to engage audiences in the extraordinary ways that technology is changing our world. In  many ways, perhaps my practice is best understood   as a form of worldbuilding. We construct worlds  for film and television productions here in LA,

or for companies like Ford or Mitsubishi or  the Dubai Government, or for our own films,   Planet City being one of them, and  immersive experiences, games and so on. We try and engage the extremes of the present  and even our speculative work begins I guess in   documentary projects. So just very  quickly, a few things that we've   done. To start with a documentary project called  Unravelled, you're seeing glimpses of it here.   This is an immersive installation that takes  audiences behind the scenes of the fast fashion   industry, because we're interested in this  idea that before we wear them, our clothes   make journeys of tens of thousands of miles in  the process of production across the planet. So this film depicts the sacred procession of  a young Indian textile worker who is walking   slowly on a sacred procession from her  home village amongst the cotton fields,   through the textile mills, factories  and vast textile industry supply chain,   where she works. And her journey suggests  this walk along the fashion catwalk  

or the path that our disposable fashion takes  in its process of production, or the path that   so many women like her have taken in their  journey from village to factory to city. And this is the work that I do  with a studio called Unknown Field,   which is a documentary studio based out of  London, that I run with another architect   called Kate Davies. And I just throw this  in here to say that so much of our work,   even in the context of science fiction, begins in  this process of engaging with the present moment.   For example, another film, Where the City Can't  See. What you're seeing here, is an example of   how driverless cars view and understand the  world as these kind of 3D point clouds.

These are scenes from a science fiction  film called Where the City Can't See.   It's the first fiction film shot entirely  using this laser scanning technology.   And it positions the audience within the embodied  viewpoint of this autonomous car, seeing the world   through the eyes of these technologies. And  the film tells the story of a group of young  

factory workers drifting through a future smart  city and a driverless taxi. They're part of an   underground rave community, and they work on the  production lines by day, but at night, they adorn   themselves in machine vision camouflage, and  they dance in the hidden spaces of the city. Or this film, Seoul City Machine. It's a short  film that is developed in collaboration with a   chatbot that we trained on operating systems. And  it's a love letter from the Seoul City operating   system to the citizens that it affectionately  manages. It's an autonomous city of machines,  

where the sky is filled with drones, the cars  are driverless. The city is draped in a layer   of augmented reality, and everyone is connected  to everything. So these are a few examples of   some of the work that we've made, stories that we  think are valuable in exploring who we are today,   and how technologies are starting to affect us.

And with that, I'll segue over to Ryan,  who can introduce himself. Because I think there's  probably shared ideas, in a way, about how   imaginary worlds can start to engage in some of  the critical discussions of the present moment.   Hi, Ryan. Thanks for hanging out. Ryan Griffen: Hey, thanks Liam. So, my name is Ryan Griffen. I'm a writer, producer, director. I just   generally, like to see myself as a storyteller.

I created the TV series Cleverman, which also  spun into some comic books. I'm currently creating   an animated series called Lustration,  which is a noir story set in the afterlife,   which is also based off a comic series that  I created, and currently also writing a   pilot set during the gold rush in Australia,  which follows a native police officer. For me, I guess, everything that I work on or  I create, comes from a cultural place. As a single parent, just in an industry that is very  time heavy, I guess I create things that can also   educate my son in some way, shape or form. And  so Cleverman was originally created for him,   the superhero in that show is named after my  son. And again, everything from there, all the   other projects are exactly the same, that they're  trying to reflect certain things that he's going   through in life and put that on page, screen,  big screen, small screen, it doesn't matter.

And for me, it's also important to make sure that  there's a cultural connection in there for me in   some way, shape or form. I work in I guess  sci-fi sort of space, superhero realms. Even, the Western that I'm writing, set  in the goldfields of Ballarat, I talk about that in a way that it's essentially a  Black Batman story. So again, for me, it's playing   in the fields that I enjoy being in, that I've grown  up on, but putting a modern spin that can educate   my son and others. Liam Young: Great, thanks Ryan. And I guess the reason we're both sitting here today,   is this project Planet City which hopefully  some of you have seen. It's currently on show   at the Melbourne Triennial, at the NGV.  

I wanted to set this project up a bit to frame  the conversation. I thought I might play just a   one minute trailer to get us in the mood and then  I want to talk a bit about the city and the book   and then start to talk about Ryan's contribution  to the book. So let's get into a trailer here. So really Planet City is the  worldbuilding of an imaginary   city for the entire population of the  Earth, I guess in its simplest form.   To begin this project, I was interested in this  idea that following centuries of colonisation,   globalisation and economic extraction, in a way  we've remade the world from the scale of the cell   to the tectonic plate. So Planet City is a  project that asks this question, like, what would   happen if we reversed this planetary-scale  sprawl? What would happen if we reached   a global consensus and retreated from our vast  network of cities and entangled supply chains   into one hyperdense metropolis housing  the entire population of the Earth? So the work is a film and a book, and it explores  the productive potential extreme densification   where 10 billion people, the projected  population of the earth in 2050,   surrender the rest of the planet to a global  wilderness and the return of stolen lands.  

So although while they're provocative, Planet  City kind of ensues or moves away from this   techno-utopian fantasy of designing a new world  order, this isn't meant to be a neocolonialist   master plan imposed from a single seat of power,  but rather it's a work of critical architecture, a work of science fiction, but a fiction  that's grounded in statistical analysis,   research and traditional knowledge. It's a collaborative project and not really my project. But it's a work of multiple voices and  cultures supported by an international team of   scientists and technologists, theorists, advisors  and of course writers, like Ryan. So in Planet City,

we see this idea that climate change is no  longer a technological problem, but rather it's a cultural problem, it's an ideological problem,  it's a political problem, because in many ways   the technology is to dig us out of the hole  we've created, but it's perhaps already here. So perhaps we think of it as  a fiction shaped like a city and the film itself follows a continuous festival  dancing through the city on a 365-day-loop,   where we meet this cast of characters and  costumed people, where each day the parade   intersects with a different carnival culture or  celebration. So with Ane Crabtree, the costume   designer of The Handmaid's Tale and Westworld,  we created this collection of masks and costumes,   in relationship and in collaboration with a  series of Indigenous makers and crafts people,   to imagine the inhabitants of the single city  for the entire population of the earth. And as well as the film and the costumes and  masks... Planet City, yes I should say, is also   a book available now in hopefully  decent bookstores around the world.  

It's a collection of nonfiction and fiction  texts, it's a chronicle of the present moment as much as it is a speculation of a world to come.  It's in a way, a city or the city in book form.   It's a city built from non-fictions that define  the temporal and ideological site that Planet City occupies and narrative fictions like Ryan's  story that captures the sorts of narratives and tales that might occur within the city itself. And in terms of the book, no distinction is made   between these two forms. Between the nonfiction  and fiction texts. In layout or sequence,   they're the same and interchangeable where we slip  back and forth between genres and disciplines, because really what we're trying to get into,  is the extraordinary and difficult truths that   underscore this present moment, are in many ways just  as fantastic, implausible and incalculable as any science fiction imagining. The real strangeness of  Planet City, is in fact, the way that we currently   make cities, as opposed to the provocation  of the fiction of Planet City itself.

And that's what we were trying to get into. And I guess that's also my way of setting up   Ryan is a collaborator and Ryan's short  story, because as Ryan was mentioning in the   introduction to his own work, so much of fiction  is really about contributing to an engagement with   today, and science fiction is  not really about predictions, predictions is the side effect of science fiction.  Science fiction is actually about the moment   that science fiction was made. So with that,  I want to throw back to Ryan and ask you Ryan,   perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your  short story Inala, and your contribution to the book and how you approached that? Ryan Griffen: Yeah, sure. So Inala is a story of a young girl  and her grandmother. They're trying to keep culture alive in a new world. So much of our  culture and our stories are embedded in the land  

that we live on. And so the removal of that and  being placed in the city that doesn't house that,   is problematic and that's something that would  need to be worked on to try and achieve and to   continue the story and community engagements  and just overall, cultural connection I guess.   The story that I wanted to tell is, again it was   written in a way of young adult  storytelling, engaging a younger audience,   but also leaning heavily on culture. So it's a story of a young girl being brought into   her inner circle of her grandmother and  other aunties and being granted stories. So   for me and for Aboriginal culture, stories are  earned, they're not a right. Information isn't  

a right, you need to earn the right to hear  certain things, to learn certain things. And   again, that's something that I want to ingrain in  all my storytelling. I think it is such a Western   construct that, freedom of information, or the  ability to, if you want something, then you   are deserving of it. And for me, I like my stories   to reflect the notion of earning, earning  the right to hear it, whether that be   for our characters or whether that be for the  audience. So, making an audience work to try  

and understand things, not throw it all,  every bit of information out on the table,   and hold the audience's hand to go through. But  to strip all that back and to make them piece it   together themselves. That's one way that I look  at it, the other is ingraining, that sort of   idea of earning knowledge, through our characters.  And Inala, the granddaughter is the one who is   earning the right to hear this  story, and is set on a journey to   collect elements from traditional lands, and  to bring them back into this new world. Because I think it's quite interesting  again, if you have a look at the notion of   people being nomadic, can often be  brought down as a negative. Again,  

I feel that's a very Western construct to plant  your roots in one location and live. Whereas,   through culture, for example, even though you have  your clan, would have their boundaries, they would   often move within that, according to the seasons  or certain sort of— So you can access food,   at certain times of the year where  you couldn't in other times. And   which, really leans into the notion of what  Planet City is, is to allow, you spend time   in a location, then you move on and that will  allow it to regenerate its food sources.

So traditional back burning,  if you will, having the ability   to burn out a whole section of woodlands to  allow kangaroos, for example, to come in and   start feeding off the saplings. Like you've  essentially created a fridge, where you could   walk in and grab the meat that you want to grab  and then exit, and then you would travel around your Country doing that in certain locations. So  that's something that I wanted to lean on here,   is that, even though in our story, we're removed  from Country, there's ways to go back and still   collect the things that we need to collect. Liam Young: Yeah, thanks for that setup. I mean, I was so excited that you accepted the invitation to do   this. Back in the before times, I think we met in  a pub in Sydney and had a conversation about it.  

And I don't think you've actually seen the book  yet. It's pretty fresh off the press, but a lot   of the other fiction contributors— There's  two authors from China, there's a Jamaican,   there's a Caribbean Canadian author, there's  Kim Stanley Robinson, the token kind of seminal   science fiction, middle-aged white guy. But I tried, as much as possible, to make   it a planetary project in all senses of the  word, I suppose, and to bring in voices that,   certainly in this town outside my  window is Los Angeles and Hollywood,   bring in voices who're not normally part of that  science fiction machine, that aren't normally   part of discourses around mainstream features  of popular culture. So I was thrilled that   you were able to offer that perspective I  suppose, because so many visions of the future,   assume that we advance as our technologies does,  and that process of evolution somehow erodes   away relationships to tradition, to mythology,  to story that certain cultural practices   get sanitised in most visions of the future. So talking about belonging and talking about  

relationships to Country, even in this context  of this most extreme science fiction, I think was   a really extraordinary contribution. And I guess  it makes me wonder, how is it that you approached   the genre? From your perspective, what is your  attitude towards science fiction and contemporary   science fiction in that process? Are there other  storytellers that you admire in that space? Are there other works that you get into or are you  endlessly frustrated by the cyberpunk dystopias,   and see no futurism that has become  placeholders for anything future? Ryan Griffen: Yeah, I guess like the one thing that   I really look at is, is science fiction really is  the story of hope. It doesn't matter what it is,   it's addressing things that we have issue  with today, in hopes that we can fix this,   so we don't get to the worst-case scenario. So  it's interesting, we have a lot of sci-fi, there's  

events, catastrophic or whatever, or we're in  the apocalypse. The thing is, there's a lot of   First Nation communities around  the world has already lived that.   It's not a new concept, it isn't something  that's in the future, it has happened.

And so I think it's, and I'm surprised that,   there hasn't been more storytelling or more  bringing in of Indigenous voices into this space,   because essentially, they've got firsthand  experience. They're writing what they know. Sure, we can set it in the future, but you've still  got to lean on what you know as a writer and   what you can tell. So for me, first and foremost,  it's always a story of hope and fixing 'the now'.   I guess, as we progress on that, there's  still the level of education that needs to   be put into this as well of informing people of  the issues that have occurred or will occur. So that's really how I approach all science  fiction, is— I guess, I sometimes start   as one idea or one scene that I would  really love to see or read, and then   take that and then start to build the world  around that. I don't build the world first,   I feel like the world is built around the initial  concept of whether it be a character or scene,   and then we go from there. So  I think that sort of answers  

what you're asking is like where I start  from, or why I am in this sort of space? Liam Young: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, it's funny   you mentioned that kind of scene that you begin  with. For me, Planet City was always a festival   actually. Again, it's a bit of an antidote to  the Blade Runners and the cyberpunk dystopias.   I was interested to try and depict the city  and the film does that, has captured the city   in this moment of celebration. We did a very  early exercise, where we mapped every cultural   festival and holiday onto a calendar. And  we saw that there's literally like, there's

no days without some kind of moment where someone  around the world is living at a moment of joy. So we imagined that the city, when you  collapse all that together, would be this   constant 365-day-party, somehow. At any given  moment, in any point of the city, someone is   celebrating, is caught up within a carnival. So  the film tells the story of this snaking Carnival,   but just continuously every day of  the year for the next decade.

It's constantly rolling through the city and  changing its form as it goes to the costumes   which appear in the book as a photo  essay, are a big part of that I guess   to try and look at what a future might be,  that's both culturally diverse and rich   but it also is playful and oftentimes messy,   but it's somehow both utopian and dystopian  at the same time. And yeah, there is hope   embedded in that I suppose the hope of  possibility of people sharing a space   and living together. Ryan Griffen: I think there's several levels of hope within this. There's the notion of coming together as one  to discuss a problem and addressing a problem  as a group and not as a singular government   or entity that the government says, "This is  how it's done." There's the hope of allowing   the earth to recover from what has happened.  The hope of using technology as a positive  

and not as a negative. I think  that these are the things that   sci-fi offers so easily, more than just  straight dramas or anything like that,   is you can really look at things that you would  like to change as a creative or a storyteller,   and place that in some sort of format that is  entertaining, that doesn't feel as preachy, but   enough for an audience to question certain  things that they do in their everyday life. Liam Young: Yeah, exactly. I mean it sounds like it's  

funny, but some of the projects I was showing  before in my intro— Generally we operate   as storytellers producing counter-narratives.  Like at the moment, the dominant narratives around   technology are either like extreme dystopias or  the techno-solutionist views of a future presented   by someone like Elon Musk where they're like,  "Oh, I've invented this battery. Don't worry,   it's all going to be fine. I've figured it  out, and if not we're going to go to Mars   and I'll invent for that too." They're very  singular visions where technology is a blanket   solution to everything, denying the deep  embedded cultural problems that exist.

So normally, we make quite complicated visions,  what I would describe as productive dystopias,   like trying to be a counter-narrative to the  way that technology is generally sold to us.   Something like Where the City Can't See that I was  showing and also Seoul City Machine are trying to   present it like the sub-cultural implications of  technologies. What happens to the kid in Detroit   who wants to go to a fucking party in the  smart city that sees everything. They want   to be drivers, they want to have sex, they want  to listen to music, but the surveillance city   doesn't allow spaces for that to occur  in the way that it used at an abandoned   warehouse rave. Where do those cracks exist in  the context of technology, and that's a story. And when we started planning Planet City,  that was kind of the tone, I guess. But  

the bulk of the production happened during 2020,  when we were living out a live action dystopia,   unfolding around us and the tone of the  project shifted and that's where the festival   started to appear, because in a way,  we didn't need the dystopian world we   were living reflected back to us, but rather we  wanted a vision that we could rally around. The alternative, became not constructing  a dystopia, but the alternative   became about constructing some kind of vision of  a hopeful future or an aspirational future or at   least a future that would get us starting  to ask questions about what might come   in a context where our future is decidedly broken.  In a strange way, architects have a terrible   history of doing that where, there's another  star architect called Bjarke Ingels, who you   probably don't know Ryan, thankfully he  hasn't entered into your world, probably He's got another project called Masterplanet,  which is basically Bjarkes has cloned his vision   of how he's going to redesign the world to  save us. And those kind of visions would   just seem to repeat the problems that got us  here in the first place, where he's trying to   tell a story about a global consensus that  was really playing on global movements like   the Global Climate Strike for the Climate March  or the Women's March that we saw in the US.

These are gatherings of human bodies organised  through the network from a Facebook page or a   hashtag organised from the ground up sometimes  by 15-year-old activists that actually play a   much more significant and substantial role in  foregrounding a discourse on climate change   than what any singular nation state is doing.  And that seemed to be this moment of hope that   we would get to a point of saturation where  globally, we would all just come together and say,   "Enough is enough. We're not going to  wait for the United Nations or for the   US to get their shit together or get rid of  Trump. We're just going to come together,   plan an anchor and start to build a new future."  And that's kind of the impetus for the city,   I guess. Yeah, hopefully. That's it.   I don't know. It's interesting that you used  the word hope because it's not something that,  

it's very difficult to tell a story in a future  where everything's worked out. In a way, that's   why Hollywood loves the dystopia because it plays  into the western stereotype of the hero's journey,   like the world's fucked up, but there's one  single white male that's going to be able to   hack it and figure it out and overcome it. This is hopefully a different kind of story.   But this is also my segue into talking about  Cleverman, another kind of story, because if   so much of dystopian future narratives  revolve around the singular hero's journey,   the confrontation of that as a business-as-usual  model that Cleverman presents I find really   fascinating. Maybe you can introduce into  the conversation, an expanded discussion of   where you think, Cleverman sits in the superhero  genre. And in the context of the Western, kind of,  

Joseph Campbell hero journey model. Ryan Griffen: Yeah, look, I guess for me, I look at Cleverman,  as poking its tongue out at the superhero genre in a way. Like you said, there's always  the white male hero saving the world from   itself essentially, where the minorities  are often ignored in that space.   And for me, again, it was addressing issues of the  past, presenting them in a modern context, because   not much has changed. When we first released the  series, we had our premiere in Berlin. And Germany  

was just getting an influx of refugees themselves.  And a lot of the interviews were like, "How did   you see this coming?" They were asking like,  "This is exactly what's going on right now." And my answer was, "This has happened  thousands of times throughout the world,   to so many colonised countries, and  continues to happen today." I wanted to place   a Black hero in that space to let people  know that the system is the problem,   more than anything else. We also wanted to  make sure that it's about coming together   as a group. We have at the forefront  of it two brothers fighting for power,  

one that doesn't really want it, one that really  desperately wants it. Again, it's addressing   not sitting down and talking things through,  there is infighting within the Black community   on it as well. It's not just an outside issue. So again, for me, it was again, leaning on hope,   and showing all the things  that I'd like to see fixed, and putting in something that should be  entertaining. I want to make things that are final  

or sometimes hard to watch, because it's going to  take you on a journey of some way, shape or form.   But it's certainly— I wouldn't say it's a  traditional superhero story. We take elements of   an origin story or a hero learning their powers  for the first time, like we have all those sorts   of things. But for me, it's a greatest story  of correcting the wrongs in our society. Liam Young: And I wonder if you can talk a little bit   more about the roles of fiction in this sense,  I always think about the William Faulkner quote,   that "Fiction is often... the best fiction is  far more true than any kind of journalism".   There's something about, where the Cleverman  operates, to renarrate to reframe our relationship   in Australia that is just staring at us in plain  sight. But there's a process of journeying to  

these imaginary worlds and to these fictions that  is really not about fetishizing that destination,   but about returning back to the place where we  started and seeing things anew with fresh eyes. I'm thinking about the way that other  fictions might do this, like District 9   is obviously a reference here where Blomkamp  reframes contemporary White and Black South African relationships through the lens of alien  refugees, the way that Cleverman operates to   retell some of these distinct stories  and relationships that are going on now.   And, I wonder if you can talk about that, in a  way, and starting to do that with what this might   mean to your son, actually which is really  amazing. Fiction has this amazing capacity to...   And then the imaginary worlds have this  amazing capacity to create a distance view,   when we can stand outside a reality, which maybe  comes to claustrophobic or too familiar for us to   start to acknowledge and to look back in on it? Ryan Griffen: Yeah, totally. I think it's very much about creating a story that is a heightened sense of the world that we live in, which I get excited about,  because we're telling stories to change something.   Like representation is really important,  telling stories can save lives. If we get to  

reach out to a minority and say, "It's okay  to feel this way, that these problems aren't   uniquely yours. These are things that we can lean  on." And that's so much easier to explore than   just having someone come out and address  the problems and preach to you. I guess, for me growing up, I couldn't really  read or write properly through the majority of   my high school. Television and comic books were my  only end. So I really didn't enjoy school at all.  

And there was always those times where you would  have a guest speaker come into the school and say   this thing, and I'd always just quickly tune off  because I always felt like I was preached to, but   films and stories never did that, because I felt  like I was in a different world. I was playing   in a different space, that rebellious nature  didn't, sort of just, block off. And I think   that's what stories can really do. And that was  what was the first and foremost with Cleverman. Originally, Cleverman was created, was being developed as a kid series,   and is far from that now. But for those who  don't know, I started to create it because   both my son and I had a real  love of the Ninja Turtles.  

And I just wanted to create a superhero that he  could play, he could dress up as, or whatever. And   that was the key to creating the story, was how  do I empower younger generations to do so? And   after the series, and getting him to go to set,  this is almost seven years down from the original   conception of the show to actually airing. His love for superheroes had changed to   his new love was wrestling, the WWE. And I  remember sitting in my lounge room one time,   and I could hear the theme music from Cleverman  playing in his room. And I was wondering what was   going on and I opened the door, and he's wrestling  a pillow, he had a Mexican wrestling mask on,   and I was like, "Bub, what are you doing?" And  he's like, "My wrestler's name is The Cleverman,   and that was his walkout music." And so, for  me, it was like, that's all it needed to do.  

It had clearly done its job of empowering him or  giving him the strength to really be proud of his   culture in any field that he ever wants to  be in whether that be a wrestler at the WWE   or someone wanting to write or become a lawyer.  Whatever it may be, it's about the empowerment. So telling stuff about our history and all  that in the story, isn't just for educating   those outside our culture, but it's about  empowering those who are Indigenous people to   go, "I'm proud of this, I'm happy to talk  about this, I don't need to conform to   a set narrative." And again, that's something  that I want to make sure that I put into   everything that I work on. Liam Young: Yeah, that's fascinating. I mean in a way, this is another strange segue, but my job seems to be   today to try and make connections between these  two very different projects. I mean Planet City,   I guess starts in a similar way in that, I spend  a lot of time in landscape like this is Ivanpah   Solar field, just outside Los Angeles, that  ultimately in some way, gets reframed and reshaped   and evolve into the solar walls of Planet City  or this is in Western Australia, the pink algae   lakes, they get translated into the algae canals  and hydro energy networks of Planet City.

And I guess the idea is, and what we were trying  to talk about it, it's a cultural narrative but   it is, in a sense, that so often when we engage in  something like climate change, which in many ways   has embedded within it, it exaggerates problems  of massive economic inequality and systemic racism   all bundled up in this strange beast of  an evolving climate and its consequences,   but we approach that as a technological  problem, currently. But what we've done   is travel around to these kind of landscapes,  massive energy fields, hydroelectric dams. All these kind of places, this is really what  Planet City is, is looking at these phenomena that   exist in the present tense and then... Just imagine  what would happen if something like the solar  

field in Ivanpah gets all the funding that it  desires, all the political backing that it needs,   and gets rolled out at scale. And that all of the  technologies, in fact, in Planet City, I describe   as a very pragmatic form of speculation. All the technologies that are in the city,   are here today. There's no magical floating,  buildings, built from Mega Graphene. We haven't   sold fusion energy, everything is built on real  calculations and real technologies of the day,   but we just imagine what would happen if  the political and cultural boundaries that   are preventing them being implemented are taken  away and what will be the lifestyles and cultures   and relationships that start to form when we  build a community around these kinds of systems,   as opposed to systems of global resource  extraction that we currently have. So I guess, it's trying to leverage real  phenomena and re-present that phenomena in a way   that forces people to look at an existing  condition or the existing technologies,   and to see them in their lives  in a way that they might not do.   Anyway, that's where we start. That's where  we started Planet City, was going on this  

kind of global tour of these mega infrastructure  projects in a way and collecting that material,   meeting the people that built them and made  them, and asking them what would happen   if you rolled this out for 10 billion  people, what would that look like.   And that's how we started I guess. And with that in mind, if we're still talking   about the roles of fiction and science fiction is  really about the present moment, or 1984, or it's   really about 1948, and so on. I wonder if you  can riff off that a little bit and talk a bit   about how something that Cleverman began for  you and what the process of collaboration,   working with community, working with some of  these stories that you were recontextualizing   and reframing, what that process looked like.  How your research, how your starting point   ended up shaping what city, the imaginary  world of Cleverman, started to look like.

Ryan Griffen: Yeah, I guess there's two things   there because I think there was a level  of research and permissions that had to go   in with the Elders. So I reached out to my Country  first and started with my Nan and Pop, and then   Aunties, that then passed me on to some  other Elders in that area and I traveled and   spoke to them all and told them what I  wanted to tell, and sit there and playing   cards with a group of Aunties and listening  to their stories and telling them what I   wanted to tell. And that's not an easy journey. There are certain things like Cleverman, is still   something that's not meant to be discussed so  much and it was in talking to some of the Elders   first and saying, "Look I'm not talking  about our Cleverman. We're creating one   in this mythical world." It's funny I wanted  to pitch to some of them because I was like,   "Imagine we had a Black Harry Potter."  And they were like, "Oh my God." And then,   the story would open up and we would  discuss more about it. They got that point of  

like, being open to telling parts of our culture,  not all of it, because it is an art thing. And so that was our first navigating, in  the cultural sense. In the worldbuilding,   it came off the back of a statement from one  of the Elders. And this statement is also part  

of the reason why I wanted to work on Planet  City, an Elder took me to, I think it was...   I'm pretty sure it was like a Red Rooster, or  something. And he said, "This here, is actually   on traditional land. Underneath all this  concrete, underneath that carpark, is our land.   Sure they've chucked something over the top  of it, but it's still there and it's still   living and breathing in some way, shape or form   and we need to understand that." He goes, "We  can't undo that, we can't undo what's been built   here. We can talk about it and we can learn." And that's the important thing about the dreaming,   is that we look at the past, the present and the  future. They're all encompassed into one thing  

and you need to glean from each of those, to  be able to build on what you want to have or   what you want to see down the track. So that  for me, was something that I wanted to really   embrace, but that was the structure throughout the  creating of Cleverman. We shot in Sydney, but we   actively avoided anything that looked colonial. So there was no sandstone buildings, there was   none of that sort of stuff, that we didn't look  at any of the colonial past in that way. We often  

talked about, imagine that you dropped your brand  new iPhone in the desert and it's cracked your   screen and all the dirt's getting into screen,  that's what our show is. It's technology that's   been broken or a system that's been broken that  has the earth bleeding into in some way, shape   or form. So that was something that we took into  all of our design whether it be in the costumes or   the worlds that we were using, the buildings.  But it's still being a modern platform. So, our graffiti in the background would have  reflections of traditional scarring on the   body or on trees. We always made sure that we were  making sure that our culture was branded on top of   a modern structure, in some way, shape or form.  And for me, it's just about making sure that   we know what's happened, we acknowledge what's  happened, we know the wrongs that have happened,   and we are trying to fix that and still  keep our culture alive today. So that's  

something that we bled through everything, all  the way through even into editing and sounds. We had this these creatures, in Season Two, we  have a vial of this stuff that is a poison, but   the sound design of how that function was  the sound of wind and sand, but it's a virus.   So again, we were making sure that it  was always had an earth element in it.   When we look at Planet City and how I  describe everything, it's in a modern setting,   but I described everything throughout that as  something from the Earth. Descriptions of how  

an automatic car travels is similar to an  ant. It always came back to nature, and that's   the same thing that we did in Cleverman.   Liam Young: Yeah, fantastic. It's great to get an insight into your process, both as a storyteller and   worldbuilder, but also through Cleverman and to  get a little glimpse of what was going on behind   the scenes when you were writing Inala for Planet  City. So thanks so much for being involved in the   project. It's so much richer for your voice there.  I think I'll throw it back to Alex. Maybe Alex,   you have some questions or things that you  wanted to throw into the conversation as well.

Alex Brown: Yeah, that would be fantastic, if we have time.   Thanks so much Liam and thanks Ryan. I got so much  out of that discussion as well, just hearing so   many extra layers there that are difficult to pick  up on just at first glance. So thank you both.

I guess, I was hoping to build a little bit on some  of the conversation again, around this idea of   the role of fiction. And I'm thinking here from my  perspective, working at the university and seeing   young people coming into our educational space. And what I sometimes see is, or I sense is,   this learnt sort of minimisation or this almost  a hierarchy emerging in people's understanding of   the world, where people's personal narratives and  experiences and fictional speculations and ideas   are somehow minimised. Or there's this search, I  suppose, for things that people might think of as somehow quote unquote "real" or "true" or, sort  of, "factual". And what I was struck by when I  

picked up... I do have a copy of the book. And when  I picked up the book and got to read through it,   coming back to your point about the way that this  publication stitches fiction and nonfiction, and   the way Ryan, you were talking about your  work as aimed, almost, at that young adult   genre. These ideas of fiction and nonfiction  of sort of young adult literature versus,   for lack of a better term, adult literature, and  all of these kinds of sewing together of different   kinds of ways of thinking about Planet City. It really felt incredibly valuable to me because,   and hearing you both talk about it, both of these  projects, both Planet City and also your broader   work Ryan and your other films Liam too, they  involve this process of prioritising the personal   and the narrative and the experiential and the  fictional and not necessarily accepting that   one is somehow more real than the other, or not  necessarily accepting that push that we might   see in the broader context or a lean towards facts  or whatever these kinds of things might mean.

And I found that really inspiring.  That's a very long way of just asking,   how do we begin to communicate the way that  thinking and personal stories and choosing what   to share with people from your own experience? Do  you have any thoughts on how we start to encourage   young people who have this sense of urgency,  who want to be involved in the world,   and who obviously want to help find ways of  navigating through complex conditions? How do we   underline for them the value of  these intensely personal stories? Ryan Griffen: I guess, for me, I sort of take the approach that  it's not always one-size-fits-all,   you need to have the ability to bend and shape  and listen. And I think now more than ever,   the world needs that. At the moment,  it just feels like it's right or wrong, there's no discussion happening in the middle  to get to a set goal. It doesn't matter what   side you're on, you've got your agenda, and  that's what you got to follow. For me, fiction  

has the ability to break that sort of down. And  unfortunately, it's the arguments that come post   that, that still lend themselves  to either side of an argument. And so for me, the idea of presenting a world  or presenting a piece of fiction that you try   and allow more than one point of view in that  space. And again, not preach of what you're trying   to educate on. Because obviously as a creative,  you're imposing your beliefs in that storytelling.  

And sometimes that may be very wrong, but you need  to also have the ability to take that criticism,   or take that critique and listen to the rights and  wrongs. And for me, that's what science fiction   is. Is just purely starting the conversation.  It's not saying, "This is how it's done."   It's just like, "Can we all grab a beer after  we watch or read this and just talk." And for me   I think that's the most important thing.  

Liam Young: Yeah, it's interesting to hear you speak on that. For us, and I'm speaking as an educator now, when I'm  here in LA, I also run this Master's program   in worldbuilding and visual storytelling at  SCI-Ark. And one of the places we start is,   trying to think through with the students, what  are the stories that only they can tell in a way,   or at least what are the contexts where they're  able to offer a unique perspective. This town   especially, it's filled with storytellers, all  trying to find their voice. How can the students   contribute to that discourse in a meaningful  way. And I think a part of that is finding   their own particular relationship to   a context or a subject. And speaking from that  position is something that we all try to do.

And I guess in various forms, that might  be called someone's directorial voice,   or in some forms, it's called their  brand, I guess. But trying to locate   yourself as a creative within that, is important.  Yeah, and it might be small, it's just like,   how can I tell this story differently than  someone else based on my own perspective?   And that's where we begin. Because  we do think that, if we start with   a real issue that we're trying to  engage with through the lens of fiction,   that real issue is genuinely really complex and  nuanced. And there's something about the fiction  

that allows for the subtlety and representation  of that nuance that other formats don't. The aestheticisation or aesthetic  practice, or practices of storytelling,   are really great means to engage with the  complexities of the world as it stands,   and this binary or this black and white, left or  right that Ryan's talking about, the impossibility   of gray spaces and complexity between things. As  I said, Planet City is both utopia and dystopia,   both at the same time. That kind of nuance,  is really well carried through story.  

Less though through a news reader just kind of  stating facts or genres of data visualization,   like turning climate change into a rising, little  snaking red line on a graph. The power of fiction   to communicate complexities, is great. So trying  to encourage students to find their fictions,   is part of encouraging them to tackle something,  and a meaningful topic they want, that they're   passionate about, in this way.   Alex Brown: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, those sentiments around nuance and complexity and sitting with that. So I realise we're  probably getting to the end of our   time. I think I just wanted to thank you both  so much for this incredibly rich conversation   and for sharing your work and also for sharing  some of the things that you have been thinking   and working with behind those kinds of  outputs that we're more familiar with.

It's been incredibly and illuminating. So thank you  both for joining us, and it's been fantastic.

2021-04-23 02:18

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