British summer, as captured by Martin Parr and starring Hans Ulrich Obrist in Sleek magazine

by Grace Wang in September 2018
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Sleek is a fashion and contemporary art magazine. Based in Berlin, it responds to the world in a way that thinks critically about politics and popular culture, providing informative reading that’s brought to life with impeccable styling and photography. For their latest issue, renowned art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is photographed by Martin Parr, the iconic photographer who captures British life like no other. We got in touch with editor-in-chief Grace Banks to find out more about this power collab, making art in a European crisis, and Britain’s last summer before Brexit…

How did the collaboration between Martin Parr and Hans Ulrich Obrist come about?

The new issue is all about Europe, the tagline is Europe: A Bordered State — a nod to the UK preparing to Brexit, German politics going increasingly right-wing, and everything across Europe feeling so disjointed at the moment in the arts and beyond. While we were planning the issue it occurred to me that this summer was the last that Britain would be in EU, which made us sad! It was also the hottest summer we’ve had in years, both in the UK and across Europe, so we thought it would be fascinating to capture that last summer before Brexit.

I wanted to feature Hans Ulrich Obrist on our cover as he’s the ideal influential European. When we were thinking of photographers to shoot Hans it became obvious to me that Martin Parr would be ideal — he’s always captured a subversive side of England. As Hans is so connected to the Serpentine professionally and personally, and given the huge success of the mastaba and the mix of old and new London, it made sense to shoot there. The whole day was glorious and felt like a very special moment in time.

You describe these carefree summer images as a last hurrah – do you foresee a creative winter for the UK when it leaves the EU?

I hope so. When the going gets tough is when artists go to work, but there will definitely be a sheen of sadness. My prediction is that there will be a surge of activity and activism in the art world, with artists and institutions forging new links with Europe. But for European people in the arts who are looking to come to London to further their careers, I think Brexit will be difficult. For the very young and green artists and creatives in England, Brexit will have a hugely negative impact on the arts. Similarly, for British creatives who long sought inspiration from travelling and living within the rich cultural history of Europe, their trajectory will completely change.

You’re based in Berlin – how healthy do Europe’s art communities seem from where you’re standing?

Much more healthy than in London. In Berlin, and Germany as a whole, particularly Leipzig, there are prolific art communities, including Spain, Italy, Poland, France, and more.

Berlin is changing though. It’s not a place where you can still get super cheap rent as easily and live off a starting artist’s salary anymore. Which is sad. But what it does have, and I hope in the long term, is an enthusiasm and opportunities for young artists.

What are some of the most interesting ways you see artists representing their European identity?

I don’t think many Euro artists directly seek to represent the identity of their country. But I think this turmoil in Europe of ‘what next’ is clear in a lot of the work by artists like Isabelle Graeff, Alec Soth and Elmgreen and Dragset. In their interview for this issue of Sleek, Elmgreen and Dragset said they were trying to get into the psychology of what the Euro crisis means through their work. I think their new work, Statue of Liberty 2018 — on show at the Whitechapel Gallery, and takes the form of an ATM machine implanted in a chunk of the Berlin wall — is a savage attack on how right-wing Europe is becoming.

Why should everyone buy a copy of this issue?

Well, we have a portfolio of original photographs of London’s last summer by Martin Parr, and a conversation between myself and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Hans has so much to say about art and politics. One of the wonderful things about this issue, and all issues of Sleek, is that so much of our work is specially commissioned for the magazine. We cover work that’s already been made, sure, but we also reach out to artists and ask them to create work especially for us.

Like the performance piece we have with artists Garrett Nelson and Richie Shazam, the photography and collage portfolio by Patrick Waugh, and memes about the art world commissioned for us by Poundland Bandit. We also have the first profile of Y/Project head designer Glenn Martens, a profile of pornographic actress Stoya, our regular column by our columnist Chris Kraus, and lots more!

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