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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 13 page 17


Most of Murat Germen’s pictures at the Aga Khan were from his “Muta-morphosis” series which he inaugurated in 2010 and sporadically adds to as he visits different parts of the world. The general theme is cities “in collision” between the comfortable or at least familiar past and the gigantism of the present and future.

Like the 19th-century panoramists, Germen combines multiple photos, but instead of carefully aligning the segments, he crashes them together, warping them horizontally at different levels until the components of the city become inextricably intertwined or rather inter-mangled. Towers, landforms, whole districts are bent out of shape. The city seems to writhe and seethe, its built form deformed into valleys, ridges, crevices, lava flows. “It looks catastrophic in a way,” Germen concedes.

Residences on crowded hillside
Murat Germen's Muta-morphosis #83 (2011)

Given this extreme horizontal compression of urban images, global overpopulation is maybe one of the first things you think of — the world as favela.

With his coinage "muta-morphosis" (muta-morfoz in Turkish) Germen is combining mutation + morphosis. Altho both words signify change, “morphosis” reminds us of organic transformation springing from internal mechanisms, while “mutation” has connotations of externally-conditioned deformation and evolution — Germen sometimes talks of the parts of the city as tho they were embroiled in a Darwinian struggle for survival.

Istanbul is clearly the city his camera understands best. He was born there in 1965 and to this day he resides and teaches there. The Aga Khan’s program notes informed me that Istanbul is a megalopolis of over 14 million people in an area of 5,400 sq km, compared to the Greater Toronto Area’s mere six million people in 7,000 sq km. I mention this because Germen’s work on show at the museum included a 210cm x 119cm shot of downtown Toronto entitled Muta-Morphosis Toronto #1. Since Toronto, in more ways than one, is not Istanbul, the museum placed the picture outside of the main exhibit. They placed it in the basement. Not even the basement, rather in a carpeted tunnel from the underground parking.

The Toronto picture is tame compared to the Istanbul stuff. Germen does not appear to have subjected this city to his customary amount of compression and contortion. Maybe there was something about this man-made mountain of banks and condos that refused to yield to him, or that failed to entice him. Yet the photo has points of interest for all that.