“We are the last people on earth, and the last to be free: our very remoteness in a land known only to rumour has protected us up till this day. Today the furthest bounds of Britain lie open—and everything unknown is given an inflated worth. But now there is no people beyond us, nothing but tides and rocks and, more deadly than these, the Romans.” — Caledonian leader Calgacus speaking to his troops before meeting the Roman legions at the battle of Mons Graupius AD 84 – From Tacitus’ Agricola, AD 89
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — History, contrary to popular opinion, is thrilling. It’s full of action, mystery, wonder and poetic quotes like the one above.
It’s also one of the soft sciences, meaning objectivity is nowhere to be found. This is great if you want to really get into the fist-pumping action of writers like Herodotus, but it’s less-great if you’re a guy like Nick Ross (b. 1986, Scotland), who is trying to understand the history of his home country. All we have to go on are ancient Roman texts about the region and those are, of course, biased as hell since they were written by an imperialistic empire that didn’t always have PC opinions about the different cultures they encountered. The murkiness of history is summarized by truisms like “winners write the history books,” but it’s rare to see it presented visually.
That’s precisely what Ross did with his “Last of the Free” series. The tableware, pots, urns, rugs, tables and benches all reference the Caledonians, the collection of indigenous people in Scotland at the time. “How did Ross get these ideas?” Well, by researching Roman histories. “But didn’t you just say that the Romans were biased?” Yes, and that’s where the set really takes off. Ross knows he’s viewing Scotland through a Roman lens, the only lens he has. It is impossible for him to do anything but guess at what may be true or false, and so he acknowledges this by giving these objects a “slightly Romanized” aesthetic. More broadly, it’s a great idea to give a physical, concrete presence to uncertainty and skepticism. In this way the set is less of an approximation of a historical topic and more about the philosophical questions surrounding history itself. Ross states:
“The project plays with our needs to have history, as history always locates us within a certain setting. We don’t really care if it’s real or fake history, as long as it answers our need to belong to a specific place or culture. By mixing storytelling with physical objects, it questions our current situation in which cultures are sacred, or that national identities are static and thus must be protected from outside influences.”
Ross, according to his biography, studied at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen on the Industrial Design program, where he was awarded the Arts & Heritage prize for his graduation project in 2008. In early 2009 he moved to Rotterdam to work under Tomáš Gabzdil Libertíny and later moved to Stockholm to work for FRONT until the spring of 2010.
In 2011 he became a tutor at Gray’s School of Art and worked there until enrolling on the masters program in Interior Architecture and Furniture Design at Konstfack in Stockholm where he received his MFA in 2013. Upon graduating he worked as assistant to Matti Klenell until founding his own studio in early 2014
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
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