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Nares Hornimani

Artist in residence Joshua Sofaer describes some of the work he has been doing at the Horniman.

‘For the last quarter of 2016, I have been lucky enough to be artist in residence at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

I have been exploring the Horniman collections as inspiration to create a series of false noses. There are many places to look.

The most obvious is perhaps the Anthropology collection: dance, devil, carnival, and ‘ugly’ masks. Equally, I could turn to the Natural History collection: the spoonbill’s beak, the paleomastodon’s nascent trunk, the nine-banded armadillo’s curled protective shell. Less obvious, but no less inspirational, is the collection of instruments: an orchestral horn false nose, a concertina false nose, of course the nose flute already exists.

I collect false noses. I have hundreds of them. Most are human noses, but I also have witches noses, clown noses, animal noses, and other oddities. I even have a plug nose and a socket nose.

In 2013, I showed a series of 452 self-portraits wearing my false noses at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The thing about this collection is that there is a rapidly decreasing pool of noses to collect. As cosplay becomes more popular and affordable, people are dressing-up more ‘authentically’. The false nose, alas, has probably seen its day.

In an effort to try and add to my own collection, I have started making false noses myself. I have made painted noses, papier maché noses, brass noses, clay noses, cardboard noses, crochet noses, and gold noses. I have recently started a digital Nose Museum on Instagram.

Bang slap in the middle of our faces, the nose is often overlooked. There are odes to beautiful eyes, sonnets on the perfect shape of lips, hair practically has a strand of literature to itself. The nose, however, is often cut off. The nose has a rich narrative potential for the absurd, the comic, the mysterious and at the same time, the entirely knowable. We all have a nose after all. As Dr Seuss reminds us, ‘They grow on every kind of head’.

My personal opinion is that all people can be divided into two categories, those who collect, and those who do not. As a collector myself I am interested in people who collect. Frederick John Horniman (1835-1906) was a collector in the Victorian tradition and on an epic scale. It is, of course, his collection that forms the bedrock of the Horniman collection.

In what used to be the main reception of the Museum, but is now the staff and goods entrance, perched on a pedestal, is a bronze bust of Horniman.

  • Nares Hornimani, The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer
    The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer

Nobody seems to know much about it. My hunch is that it was created at the same time as the building, which opened to the public in 1901. It fits too perfectly into its nook to be a later addition. One option is that it is the work of sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy (1856-1924). Pomeroy made a bronze bust of Horniman’s daughter-in-law in 1898, and also a memorial tablet for the Museum. I’m still in pursuit of some solid evidence that confirms or contradicts this theory. (If you know something, get in touch!)

  • Nares Hornimani, A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer
    A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer

In tribute to the man that endowed this fantastic Museum, I want to create a Horniman false nose. And what could be a more fitting material for a tribute, than gold?

After discussing my plans with the conservation team, writing method statements, and making patch tests, I was given the go ahead to make a cast of the nose and moustache area of the bronze bust.

  • Nares Hornimani, Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer
    Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer

Despite having used the alginate and plaster bandage technique literally hundreds of times to successfully cast faces (most recently on the life mask of another Victorian and Edwardian collector, Henry Wellcome) the process failed. Perhaps I had been over cautious about what materials to use, not wanting to affect the patina of the bronze, but still, I thought it would work. The alginate can sometimes ‘go off’ but the batch seemed fine to me. Anyway, for whatever reason, possibly the cold temperature of the bronze, it wouldn’t release without tearing.

  • Nares Hornimani, A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer
    A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer

I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty embarrassed. After all the efforts to secure the permission and cordon off the area, I felt a bit incompetent. Luckily for me Lindsey Bruce, Exhibitions Officer, and my main point of contact at the Museum, was unperturbed. “We will make it happen,” was her refrain.

It was back to the 4D model shop in Whitechapel to see what other casting agents I could safely use. Armed with a pack of Gedeo Siligum, a silicone based moulding paste, I returned to the Museum to run a test on a bronze scrap. It seemed fine, and Julia Gresson from the conservation team, gave me the go ahead for a second attempt.

Poor Frederick looks a bit miserable having his nose cast.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer

This time, success! A very good cast that also picked up some dirt, which must have gathered up his nose over the years. Once the cast was off, Julia gave him a good clean.

  • Nares Hornimani, A good cast, Joshua Sofaer
    A good cast, Joshua Sofaer

Taking the mould back to my studio, the next step is to make a wax template. Yes, I know this looks like a school project gone wrong, and yes, that yellow stuff really is Play-Doh. Play-Doh is a great way to build up the sides of a wax mould. It’s cheap, washes off easily, and can form a tight seal.

  • Nares Hornimani, Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer
    Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer

After a couple of hours leaving the wax to cool and harden, I stripped back the Play-Doh, and removed the mould. The Horniman nose and moustache wax template stands proudly before me.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer

Now that I had at least one good wax copy, I made a plastic polymer version from the same mould as an insurance.

  • Nares Hornimani, Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer

The next step was to take the template to a metal workshop to have it copper electroformed. Electroforming is a process that builds up a metal surface through electrodeposition. Because wax is not conductive, the area to be electroformed has to be treated chemically with a conductive layer, something like a metal paint. The technical term for the template is ‘mandrel’. The mandrel is then put into an electrolytic bath with a copper solution in it and the copper crystals slowly form around the conductive pattern.

  • Nares Hornimani, The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer

A couple of days later I returned to the metal workshop to collect the mandrel. The wax is now covered with a beautiful layer of copper.

  • Nares Hornimani, The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

To get rid of the wax, I simply popped the thing into the oven (130 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes) and let the wax melt out through a wire grid into an aluminium take-away carton.

  • Nares Hornimani, Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer
    Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer

Back in the studio, I cut out the shape I wanted, following the natural line of the moustache, punched out the nostrils, and drilled some holes for the thread ties.

  • Nares Hornimani, Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer
    Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer

This is the final shape.

  • Nares Hornimani, The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

Then it’s back to the metal workshop for the golden jacket. The copper nose-moustache-combo has to be polished and thoroughly cleaned. The first bath is just washing-up liquid and water; the second running water; the third acid, in which you can see the dirt fizz away!

  • Nares Hornimani, The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer

  • Nares Hornimani, The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer

Then Mr Horniman’s nose is plunged into a bath of gold. In fact, it is just gold dust in a solution, and the process of gold plating is similar to that of electroforming, only much quicker. I tried to distract the technician, asking questions for as long as possible, so that an extra thick layer of gold would make its way onto the surface (only joking). In reality, it’s only a few microns deep. If you rough handle gold plate, you will see what’s underneath.

  • Nares Hornimani, Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer

And there we have it. One gold Horniman nose and moustache.

  • Nares Hornimani, Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer

However, I’m not sure it’s quite finished yet. I want to give this nose some kind of totem. One that makes it an object worthy of the taxonomic principles that form Horniman’s collection and which that collection helped to create.

There are several species to which Horniman lent his name. This happened when entomologists were invited to survey Horniman’s collections. Although Horniman did go on big world travels later in his life and brought crate loads of stuff back to the UK, most of his early collections were purchased through intermediaries. Someone goes off to Africa and collects a bunch of specimens, brings them back to London, and Horniman buys them at auction, for example. He would then welcome experts to look at what he had amassed. Specimens include a moth, Eusemia hornimani, (now Heraclia hornimani), a true bug, Tesserotoma hornimani, and the ‘Horniman beetle’, Ceratorhina hornimani (now Cyprolais hornimani), from Cameroon, described by naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates in 1877.

  • Nares Hornimani, Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer
    Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer

Perhaps the most beautiful species named after Horniman is the ‘Horniman Swallowtail’, Papilio hornimani, known only from the northern forests of Tanzania and the southern hills of Kenya. As Jo Hatton, Keeper of Natural explained to me, it was identified by Victorian entomologist W L Distant in 1879, when he was looking through Horniman’s vast collection of butterflies.

  • Nares Hornimani, This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer
    This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer

As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered how all those Victorian insects were pinned at just the right height, Jo showed me the entomologist’s ‘Pinning Stage’, a metal block that is used to set the specimens and their labels at a consistent height on the mounting pin. You pin the specimen, pick which height you want, and push the pin into the stage. By using the same hole each time, the specimens will always be at the same height.

  • Nares Hornimani, Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer
    Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer

Here is the defining Papilio hornimani on its original pin, with two labels beneath the butterfly.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

It is almost always the open wings of the butterfly that we see pinned up, because they are traditionally seen as the most pretty, the reverse side, which is, I suppose, more commonly seen in nature as the butterfly sits on vegetation, have their own muted beauty. The Papilio hornimani is made up of soft dusty browns, greys and creams.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

As you might expect, over the years, the Horniman Museum has acquired many examples of its lepidopterous namesake.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

Where does all this fit into Horniman’s gold nose? Well, I’m thinking of giving him a Swallowtail nose ring, in the spirit of anthropology. I have drawn out the shape and will soon laser cut a piece of 0.5mm steel, which I will then have plated in gold, to match the nose.

  • Nares Hornimani, Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer
    Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer

Horniman fell in love with Japan (as in fact, have I) and so I have ordered a length of ‘kiki himo’ (literally 'gathered threads'), 100% silk braid made by craftsmen in Uji, Kyoto, which is being sent over from Japan, as the string to tie on the nose.

Soon I will be able to reveal Nares hornimani. Watch this space.’