super future kid turns your childhood into trippy neon paintings
Growing up in the Eastern Bloc, artist Super Future Kid didn't have access to the colorful cartoons the rest of us took for granted.
In 1989, when Super Future Kid was eight years old and living in East Germany, the Berlin Wall fell, and a whole new world opened up to her. For the first time, she saw green lawns in front of houses and tasted Coca-Cola. Most importantly, she had access to Western TV, and became fascinated with cartoons like the Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Ghostbusters, and with the toys that were advertised during the commercials. “These were epic times for me,” she remembers. Today, she is just as obsessed with cartoons and toys as ever — “I really have to get a hold of myself every time I pass the toy aisle at any supermarket,” she says — and uses them as inspiration for her wacky, wonderful rainbow-colored paintings and Play-Doh-esque sculptures. “My love for toys will never change,” the London-based artist explains in the following interview with i-D. “I can see myself still buying Legos, an action figure, and a new My Little Pony at the age of 80.”
Before the Berlin Wall fell, what was your life like as a child in East Germany? Did you have access to pop-culture and cartoons?
The Wall fell when I was eight, so the first eight years of my life were 100 percent shaped by East German culture. I did have a great childhood before and after the wall — it was just very different. Before, we had pretty basic but still great toys, such as baby dolls, cars, and wooden blocks. Their design was quite plain and simple and there were no TV commercials for toys at all, given that there only existed two TV channels. Back then, I had absolutely no idea about the fancy, flashy world of toys and cartoons that children had access to in West Germany. The first time I ever saw this stuff was when we did our first trip to the West, just one day after the reunification of East and West Germany, in November 1989. We went to Brunswick, and all the neat and saturated green lawns and the strange architecture blew me away. We also visited a large store that day that had an entire floor dedicated to toys. They had giant plush animals — at least three times my size — and shelves upon shelves of the craziest things imaginable. I was really digging the whole Barbie universe, but it was also quite expensive, so I got a similar doll that was still rad because you could change her hair color with water from blonde to blue. I also had my first Coke and roasted peanuts that day — yes, food was super basic in the GDR. There was nothing exotic: no bananas, pineapples, olives, mangos, or kiwis. Just having a peach was already pretty special!
After the fall of the Wall, what were some of the cartoons and toys that you were first introduced to or become obsessed with?
After that, everything started to change dramatically all around us. I got so hooked on TV commercials — in one of them, they made a butter knife glide across a fresh tub of margarine to create this solid wave of ridged fat, and this fascinated the heck out of me. I tried to imitate it every time we had breakfast. Neon colors also completely blew my mind, so much so that I collected price tags, just because they were printed on fluorescent paper.
To make connections on the other side, my parents posted an ad in the newspaper, and connected with two families in West Germany. They gave us so many toys, all used of course, but for me it was like a dream. This is how I had my first computer at the age of eight, a Commodore 64, and a real awesome BMX bike with a red frame, fancy pads, and blue tires. I was able to watch cartoons starting at 6am. and I loved every toy commercial in between. It didn't even matter that I couldn't physically own all those toys they showed there, just watching the commercials was an adventure in itself. Some of those that I remember were the Keypers, ponies and snails that had secret compartments locked with a chunky plastic key, and rainbow-colored Magic Tracks with which you could build any racetrack shape you wanted, including loops. Cartoons I remember watching were the Gummi Bears, Chip ‘n’ Dale, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, and the Muppet Babies to name just a few. It was cartoon heaven!
How is your work an extension of your childhood? Or how does your aesthetic reflect your youth?
I don't think that I ever really stopped being a child. My affection for silly nonsense and brightly colored plastic toys is as strong as it ever was. I still sometimes end up buying a Play-Doh set, Lego, or whatever else I wasn't able to resist. Those things drive me; they trigger my curiosity and strong desire to make something. In a sense, my work enables me to keep playing with things like that, with colors and shapes and basic ideas about life and what it means to be human. There often is this very basic idea behind toys to emulate life by creating simple, fun, and happy versions of [things] that have serious and complex counterparts in the world of adults. Life is very complicated, and it will take forever to figure it out, so engaging yourself with oversimplified versions of it can have quite a liberating and alleviating effect on you.
Do you feel strange as a grown up?
I don't really feel strange — it's more a feeling of not fitting in. I remember that when I was little I always watched my parents deal with seemingly difficult, monotonous, and dull things that had to do with money, their job, or the house and I felt worried that I'd have to do all those things too once I'd grown up. I thought that at a certain age you are expected to get a stupid job and fill out complicated forms every day. At that age, I didn't even know that there was such a thing as art or even the possibility of becoming an artist, instead I hoped I'd never grow up because the prospect seemed awfully disagreeable.
When did you learn about fine art and then later decide to become an artist yourself?
Since I lived in a provincial town and as this was pre-internet, I had no real idea about what art was supposed to be. Our school program did pretty feeble attempts in exposing us to art; the first time I ever went to an exhibition was at the age of 16 or so at the local museum. They showed watercolors of some lady who probably lived in the same town, but to be honest, the entire trip was incredibly boring. My first real encounter with art was on my first trip to the UK at 17. By then, I had an inkling that art might be more interesting than what I saw at that small museum, and I knew I was right when I went to Tate Britain and saw the work of Cy Twombly. He was the first artist that completely blew me away.