Neon-lit streets, the colourful hanging lanterns of Chinatown, the buzz of theatregoers and bar-hoppers: with so much going on in Soho, you’d be forgiven for not noticing a spattering of life-size noses protruding from the neighbourhood’s walls and buildings.
The noses are the work of artist Rick Buckley, who came up with the idea in the late 1990s in response to the widespread debate about the installation of surveillance cameras across the UK and London. Buckley told the Evening Standard that he drew inspiration from the Situationists, a mid-century group of artists and revolutionaries who carried out disruptive performance art to draw attention to the pitfalls of Capitalism.
Disruptive isn’t exactly the word you’d use to describe Buckley’s noses, however: each of them is moulded from his own nose, blending in with their surroundings, matching the colour of the wall. Much like CCTV cameras, the idea is that they’re omnipresent yet inconspicuous; hidden in plain sight.
Initially, there were 35 noses affixed to popular landmarks across London, including Tate Britain and the National Gallery. Most of them have now been removed, but it’s believed that at least five still remain in Soho, including on the facade of restaurant Quo Vadis on Dean Street, and on Bateman Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. A few remain outside of Soho too, the most well known being on the inside of Admiralty Arch. Before Buckley owned up to creating the noses in 2011, many urban myths circulated about the Admiralty Arch nose. One theory was that it was a tribute to the Duke of Wellington’s rather large snout, and another that it was being stored as a spare for the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square.
Soho isn’t the only area with body parts growing from its walls. Hidden away in neighbouring Covent Garden is a series of unassuming ears, the handiwork of artist Tim Fishlock. Other than an obvious nod to the ‘walls have ears’ adage, there doesn’t seem to be much of a backstory to Fishlock’s ears. Two of them can be found on Floral Street, and like Buckley’s noses, they’re well camouflaged.
A district that’s never short of quirky public art, Shoreditch is home to a collection of protruding, lifelike faces. They were created by French street artist Gregos, cast from his own face in a variety of expressions and painted in different styles.
Keep an eye out for these cheeky faces on Shoreditch High Street, Brick Lane and Curtain Road.
Our debut short film, The Soul of Soho, explores neighborhoods separated by oceans, history and culture but united by craft community and change. Neighborhoods bound by one name: Soho. Intimate portraits of city living in the Sohos of London, New York and Hong Kong reveal rich stories of the people who bring life to these iconic neighborhoods. Explore Soho here.