Publisher: Badger & Press, China
Design: Liu Zhizhi
Edition: 1500 copies
Size: 20 × 34 cm
Since I moved to Beijing in 2007 people have made comments about my height (which is 200 cm exactly). As a reaction to this constant stream of amazement and good intended jokes about 'the weather up there' I embarked on a three year project. My aim was to deliberately confuse all this attention with 'being famous' and our hope was that this would turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. Which it did, somehow. This book is a document of that journey, and functions also as a life size ruler for anyone up to 2 meters.
Look! There is Big Ben
Text by Yang Lin
“Wa Sai!” in Chinese is comparable to “Oh my god!” in English. It’s a comment often said by the Chinese when passing Ruben Lundgren on the streets of Beijing. The reason for this reaction is obviously his striking height, outstanding within the capital’s crowd. The usual “Ni Hao” was not the first sentence Lundgren learned after his arrival in China, but the answer “Liang Mi”, meaning two meter, turned out to be more useful. Ruben in Chinese is also Lu Xiaoben or Big Ben, which continuously answers the flow of questions caused by his height. It doesn’t bother him much. With this project he even found a way to enjoy it a bit. “When I see the way people look at me,” he says with a smile on his face “I feel like a superstar.”
Almost all foreigners in China receive comments and an extra dose of attention compared to local citizens, a tall Dutch student is no exception to this rule. However, it would be too narrow-minded to say that his latest project only focuses on differences between Chinese and Western culture. In earlier projects, like “Empty Bottles” (2007), we notice an interest towards Chinese social issues. The source of his work is not simply inspired by cultural exchange. Other then most western photographers, Ruben creates his own perspective and understandings of China rooted within the orient itself. He is not just showing us outside differences comparing two worlds but searches for a harmony between them. This goes beyond the traditional way foreigners looking at instead of from China.
In the project Ruben uses his two-meter height in a wide variation of media. Beside photographs we see light boxes, magazines, video stills, banners and photography performances. The "living ruler suit" is a good example within this collection of ideas. Placed in a white studio it is a clear photograph, while placed within the setting of a vegetable market or museum it becomes a performance. The works also show us a playful way of exploring Chinese characters. The handwritten work statement lays the foundation that the project is build on. It declares stardom in five basic sentences that have an adorable almost childish sprit: “When I walk on the streets of Beijing I feel like a celebrity. Many people look at me. This I want to use for my new project. My goal: to become a real Chinese celebrity before graduation. Today I start.” Of course, this is just the surface. The essence underneath this statement is an emotional desire for acceptance within a new environment, a search for identity and a definition of reality.
The photographic medium is a complicated factor in this process as photographs can fool us with a reality that it is created. The project explores the possibilities of make-belief within Chinese society using the body as the main tool. The repeated use of Chinese characters, variety of media, great sense of humour and self-mockery all emphasizes this and at the same time help us understand the meaning underneath it.
By comparing height differences Ruben found similarities, by regarding the unknown he identified himself. In this process, Ruben carefully measures the distance between himself and society, creator and consumer, surface and depth and in the end, one reality to another. As we can see his stardom rising in China by the day, we can regard the whole project as one big self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever will happen in the future, superstar or not, there is one thing that will always remain the same: the ability to easily recognize him from a far. Look! There is Big Ben.