Narratives Interview Series: Murat Germen

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Interview: Seniha Ünay / About
Translation: Burçin Nilay Kalınbayrak / About

The guest of the September issue of Narratives Interview Series is the artist, architect, lecturer and archivist Murat Germen, who has achieved significant success in the national and international area and changed our perspective on daily life with his works. Within the interview, Germen answered our questions about his thought and production processes, his perspective on photography and architecture, and his archivist side.

“We have miscellaneous rights regarding the city or architecture…”

Your works change our perspective on the architectural structures we pass by every day, on the objects we see, and on the ordinary daily life. They break the routine. What makes it happen? Could you tell us about your thought and production processes of creating a work?

Since we somehow experience, live, and see every day the urban structure stock consisting of architectures with various sizes, volumes, quality and function, and architectural works of individual scale, we see them as ordinary objects, phenomenons, and concepts. Since they are parts of our routine lives, they only occupy a place as a background in our daily perception. But both the city and architecture are components that we need to monitor carefully, even if we are not planners or architects. We have miscellaneous rights regarding the city or architecture, and if we do not track them, the political power governing cities seizes us. The city is an area of great importance to the political and economic powers because cities are now planned as places of captivity. People are dragged into cities with various methods and tricks by governments, they are being made fool / clumsy with the “smart” services provided here, their personal / private data can be collected easily and thus they can be manipulated much more easily, they are being made dependent / enslaved unable to do any work on their own. The so-called independent life allegedly provided in the city is actually built on maximum individualization and minimum cooperation, in other words, discrimination, and contrary to what is claimed, people are being made dependent. Even a global virus disease, if necessary, can lead to a package of measures putting into force that would prevent us from adopting unifying tactics.

The reason why I produce works on the city, architecture, the devastation of nature, gentrification, rent, overurbanization, and land speculation is that I, and we can continue to keep these issues alive in our minds. While doing this, the purpose of my effort of using a remarkable visuality is to attract the attention and perception of the audience in the first instance; and if I achieve this, then to give my message with text and artist talks. The reason why I started with two-dimensional documentary / fictional works and gradually enhanced on three dimensions on the scale of the work, and even took this further and started site-specific installations is linked to the same concern: Creating awareness about the facts that I have tried to mention above.

Murat Germen

Murat Germen, “Overflow”, Generic Gallery Installation, Ferda Art Platform, İstanbul, 10.09-10.10.2020.

In your exhibition “Stairway: Step by Step” in 2019, we see that you transformed the space with photographs. You use photography in many various forms. Based on this, could you mention what kind of a means of expression photography is for you?

Photography is one of the most effective means of communication. Photographs with subtitles are mostly used to verify or bend the truth. Photography allows you to constitute necessary words easily and powerfully to be able to fictionalize your expression and make the sentences you want. This is such a power that a photograph can even substitute what it represents from time to time. It is also a means of democratic discourse that everyone can access at any time thanks to the “all present and correct” situation provided by the cameras integrated into smartphones. For these reasons, I am quite pleased to be active in the field of photography. Being able to convey your message through a visual language that everyone cares about is an unmissable opportunity.

Murat Germen, “Stairway: Step By Step”, Room Size Photo-Installation, Merdiven Art Space, İstanbul, December, 2019.

“I can summarize the relation between photography and architecture as ‘the representation of construction, the construction of representation.’”

You have a MArch degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that you attended as a Fulbright scholar and you received AIA Henry Adams Gold Medal for your academic excellence, but you do not practice architecture as a profession. Can we say that you use the architectural structure as a medium in your photographs? In this sense, could you touch on the relation you have established between photography and architecture?

Architecture itself is already a medium. Ideally expected to meet the basic needs, architecture can also be exploited to represent the force of political and economic powers (towers, palaces, mansions, government buildings, monuments, etc.) From this point of view, we can say that I use this indispensable position of architecture in the climate of power as a medium. I can summarize the relation between photography and architecture as “the representation of construction, the construction of representation.” I do not use the concept of “construction” here in the meaning of an act of concrete construction but in the meaning of abstraction over the conceptions such as the construction of life by the powerful ones, and social engineering strategies. Architecture appears as the representation of the social construction that I have mentioned, and the architectural photographer turns this construction into a visual representation by turning his/her own perception and the perceptions suggested by the architect upside down.

Murat Germen, “Cairo #02“, “Muta-Morphosis” Series, 2010-2019.

It seems as if you are making paintings with the camera, your works seem like you take the brush in your hand and paint them. Yet everything is digital. What makes us think that way, what do you think of that? What is your point of view on technological innovations and how do they affect your works?

As I tried to explain above, if we see photography as a word to make a sentence; we can also see it as a brushstroke, ink / paint / color stain, form / style component, and a part of the canvas in order to form a whole painting. On the other hand, based on the fact that photographs consist of pixels in the digital image environment, it is likely to suggest that a single photograph is a pixel of a larger composite photograph. It is now possible to see and produce the photograph as a large or small part of or as the whole of the global space we are in. Regarding this, it may become inevitable to depict both concretely and abstractly the “big picture” with photography.

I follow technological developments closely in both hardware and software extents; because from time to time they can help to create some new discourses on both contextual and aesthetic levels. Last week, via a crowdfunding platform named “Kickstarter”, I made a financial contribution to a digital photo assistant that works with artificial intelligence software and is small enough to be mounted on the camera flash holder. I am looking forward to the mid-2021 when the product will be sent 🙂

Murat Germen, “Cloud #4“, From the Exhibition “Cloud”, Bozlu Art Project, İstanbul, 13.03-21.04.2018.

We see a versatile portrait of Murat Germen, an artist, an architect, a lecturer. Besides these, you are also an archivist. Could you tell us a little bit about your archivist side? What does keeping archives mean to you? What are your criteria for keeping archives?

Founded on precious lands where civilization was born, Turkey is a country where you can see more or less the intertwined and overlapped layers of maybe the largest number of cultures in the world. How deeper the cultural heritage is, the shallower the efforts are to preserve and archive it. Keeping archives is indeed one of the most important assets of culture, state or nation, but we do not see any political power comprehended this except the first years of the Republic of Turkey. On the contrary, the cultural heritage itself, and especially its diversity, is subjected to endless destruction and persecution. Within this framework, in our country, keeping archives can turn into an act of a crime scene investigation in order to prove this culture massacre, besides being an act that documents the richness of the culture and enables it to be shared with other cultures. There are crimes of the destruction of cultural heritage, and photographs serve as evidence for these crimes. First, I began with the intention of monitoring the development of Istanbul, now the archive has turned mostly into an act of gathering evidence.

While keeping the archives of photos, I take various precautions so that they can be found easily and quickly, correct tagging and indexing are very important here. Produce as many documents or evidence as you want, they become useless unless you reach them. For the last 3-4 years, I have been able to assign a global location coordinate to my photos, using the ability of smartphones to create routes with GPS coordinates and share it with other platforms in a usable format. In this way, the nightmare, “Where did I take this photo?” disappears. Although GPS location information is automatically assigned to photos on smartphones, somehow there is no GPS module even in the most reliable professional cameras at present. Therefore, I make an extra effort to close this gap with various software.

Murat Germen, “Yalova“, From the Exhibition “Industry as Icon: Industrial Aesthetics”, Garanti Gallery, 2005.

Could you tell us about your latest exhibition “Overflow” at Ferda Art Platform?

I quote from the press release of the exhibition, since it provides a good summary.

“Murat Germen’s solo exhibition, Overflow can be seen at Ferda Art Platform between 10.09.2020- 10.10.2020. Overflow will consist of three series of works titled ‘’Business as Unusual’’, ‘’Humanscapes of Solidarity’’, ‘’Sculpting Reflection’’ and a video piece, that encompass three different mediums. These series question the “present time” that humankind has experienced throughout the course of the virus while also surveying the bold outlook of the artist towards the current political climate. Unlike a cut and dry method of exhibition, the viewers are welcomed with an exhibition design by architect Kerem Piker that questions the capacities of a photograph’s imperial role to become the establishing factor of space. Overflow, that is curated by Necmi Sönmez, presents a union of works that interpret the modern understanding of reality.

The series “Humanscapes of Reality” consists of 1170 different images that welcome the viewer into the exhibition without distinguishing between language, race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or age to show an ideal way of existence. ’Business as Unusual’’ that surrounds this series is presented as a form of criticism towards the power structures of business world. Germen’s “World spins no matter what!” titled single channel video work, aims to transform the visual representation of the virus into a form of question that highlights the underlying source of its existence. Finally, the “Sculpting Reflection’’ series represent “the imposed means of social distance through individualization by the globally dominant networks.”

Murat Germen’s exhibition Overflow, questions the possibility of sustainability of the daily life that is stuck between “the old and the new normal. In this sense, the exhibition has an unbounded character where inevitable social problems are surfaced and presented through visual imagery. The exhibition, in which the artist presents a common criticism with three different mediums, unites as a memory of the realities of life in the pandemic period.”

Murat Germen, “Overflow”, Generic Gallery Installation, Ferda Art Platform, İstanbul, 10.09-10.10.2020.

Our thanks are due to Murat Germen.

  • For more information about the artist, you may visit his website.
  • All the photos in this interview are used by courtesy of the artist from his website.
  • The rights of all the visual and textual concepts in this interview are reserved. Quotation shall be allowed provided that the source shall be mentioned in the work where the quotation is cited. For the photos please contact the artist.
  • The translation of the press release of the exhibition Overflow is left as it is in accordance with the original, and taken from the website of the artist.

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