Ballroom (ornament) emerged from a visit I made to the Irish Embassy in London in 1995 where I first saw the ballroom now used for state receptions. The building was built in the mid-nineteenth century and the ballroom is lavishly decorated in what I would term Viennese chocolate box. The room, complete with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace, parquet floor, a vast mirror at one end and two hideous fireplaces is heavily encrusted with gilt plasterwork. The immediate impression on entering is of tasteless opulence. Following closely from this is a sense of fun. It is a room created for pleasure, a room of fairy tales, fantasy and escapism. It is a room which has nothing to do with the reality of modern-day life.
When I decided to make an ornament, ostensibly to be placed in the ballroom but in fact for Gallery 4 a the the Henry Moore Institute, it was in direct response to the Victorian sensibility that is part of the room’s ambience. I wanted to make something ornamental but which had a certain awkwardness. However, I also wanted make something that did not have the urban sophistication of the Embassy, so I started to look at Victorian ideals of nature and the way they worked obsessively at controlling it to conform to their own ideas of beauty. I decided to make a bucolic idyllic landscape, a sort of rural equivalent of the ballroom, so obviously labour intensive that the frivolity inherent in the work would have an edgy, almost uncomfortably quality to it.
The ungainly organic shape of Ballroom (ornament) covered with its delicate tracery of idealized nature stands about two feet high, too big to hold as one would a traditional ornament and yet too small to have a monumental presence. Its awkwardness is emphasized by casting it in brass, a common metal for Victorian decoration. Gallery 4 is the only exhibition space in the Henry Moore Institute that still has a domestic feel and is also the only space in the building that retains some of its original Victorian features. Placing Ballroom (ornament) in the awkwardness of Gallery 4 is a way of addressing the room’s past as well as allowing the frivolity of the ballroom to take root there
Liadin Cooke 2003