Printmaker Sam Hodge tells Lucy Davies how she turned shattered mobile phones into art
by Lucy Davies
8:00AM BST 30 Jun 2015
Shattering one’s touchscreen phone makes dialling a hassle and texting a finger-shredding ordeal. But in certain circles the smashed screen has become a means of self-expression. You can even purchase a screensaver that mimics shattered glass.
While creating etchings inspired by broken windows near her home in Hackney, east London, artist Sam Hodge found her eye drawn to her friends’ smashed phone screens. “It fascinated me that no two patterns are ever alike,” she says.
The first screen she reproduced belonged to her son’s guitar teacher. Next she tried asking strangers if she could borrow their phones but they were, unsurprisingly, rather reluctant. Then, in 2013, she accepted an invitation to participate in an event at the Barbican in which artists were invited to host pop-up stalls in the gallery foyer. Hodge put up a sign saying “I want to draw your broken phone screens” – and things took off.
“People seem delighted when I ask how it happened,” she says. “It’s almost like therapy for them.” She has been consistently astonished by the number of people who have no intention of getting the damage repaired. “They’d say, ‘It’s a bit annoying when bits of glass fall into my ear, but other than that, it’s fine’.”
This week, 39 of the 45 screen impressions she has made so far will be printed as a limited-edition book. It has a glow-in-the-dark cover meant to mimic the constant glowing presence of the smartphone screen in everyday life. Hodge also plans to sell individual prints.
To make each impression, she places transparent drypoint plastic over the broken screen and, looking through a magnifying glass, traces the pattern with a needlelike tool. Depending on the complexity, a single drawing can take anything up to a couple of hours. When ink is rolled on to the plastic it sticks inside the lines, which are then pressed against paper using a 19th century roller press.
Each screen is reproduced alongside its story, told in reported speech. The owners often go into incredibly mundane detail and even try to reason with fate. The resulting collection is a panorama of everyday life – commuting, dates, Japanese philosophy, Sellotape, the perils of jean pockets.
Hodge, 52, studied natural sciences at Cambridge, and likens the idiosyncrasies of the shatter lines to the infinitesimal patterns found in nature – in snowflake forms, for example, or in the filaments of butterfly wings. For many years she worked as a painting conservator for museums and galleries such as the Tate, and even made a study of the ways paint and varnish in a Flemish panel or a Van Dyck portrait might crack differently over time.
She hasn’t yet broken her own screen: “I’ve spent so long looking at smashed phones that mine has come to seem abnormal,” she says. “I can’t quite believe it. I keep looking at it and thinking: ‘What’s wrong with it?'”
Adam has an old type of HTC, which used to belong to his Mum. Angry, because it kept turning off randomly, he threw it at a wall. It fell face down onto his bed and when he turned it over and saw that it was smashed, his heart dropped. It still works fine though and it looks quite cool. It is a nice break he thinks. He hopes he might get a new phone soon because this one is getting old.
There was somebody watching who saw the whole thing. She slipped on a leaf while walking along listening to music and dropped her iPhone, which smashed on the pavement because it didn’t have a cover. It is always a bit embarrassing when someone sees you wreck your own phone and her first thought was to try and get away as soon as possible. It still works perfectly fine and as she is very lazy she can’t be bothered to fix it. She will get a new one eventually. The cracks make a good conversation piece; a lot of people have asked, “What happened to your phone?”
Stefano’s phone was trodden on in a nightclub. It still works. It has been like this for months now and it doesn’t seem to bother him much.
Although he doesn’t like to admit it, Jake did cry (slightly) when his iPod broke. He was running about at a festival with the iPod in his back pocket and when he took it out to check the time, he realised that the screen had been horribly smashed by a metal stud poking out of his jeans.
It took a whole load off his back that the touchscreen wasn’t broken and his iPod wasn’t dead forever, but the lines are quite annoying when you want to watch or do something.
Sarah was not at all happy to find her Vodafone broken by unknown incident in handbag.
It made Oscar sad that it missed and fell as he put it on the kitchen counter. He had saved up and bought it with his own money. His Dad rang his Mum straight away to say, ‘You’ll never guess what Oscar has done to his new iPod.’
The cycle trip to meet a friend for coffee in Camberwell nearly ended in disaster because an idiot woman in a car pulled into the bus lane without looking and almost clipped Paul. That’s not what cracked his screen though. It fell out of his hand and onto the ground while he was animatedly explaining his recent close shave. He was a bit shocked, but not that upset as it still works fine and he has lost plenty of phones. The cracks make an interesting pattern and make you wonder: where was the point of impact?
On his way to a first date, Miguel flew off his bicycle on Hackney Road and landed in a muddy puddle. He was shaking, thinking that he had broken something, just as shoulder and arm had been broken six months before. This time it was only his iPhone that smashed. He was still gutted about that as he had just had it repaired after a previous accident on Hackney Road. This time it’s the back that has cracked most. He has stuck it together with green duct tape. The damage gives it character and he is going to keep it like that until it stops working. He arrived at the date bleeding and covered in mud. “I don’t always look like this,” he said. There was no second date.
It was the work Christmas party. They were celebrating and Roger had a bottle of drink in one hand and his phone in the other. A colleague went to grab the bottle. She missed it altogether and knocked the phone on the floor. Roger was devastated as he had only had his phone two weeks, but soon got over it. It works, which is the main thing. The HTC OM1 is a very good phone, very reliable. He has had it for nearly two years since it got cracked and even after losing bits of the screen and falling in water a couple of times it still works perfectly.
Sam was angry with his girlfriend – it was just a silly drunk argument. Not really thinking what he was doing, he put his hand in his pocket, grabbed his phone and squeezed as hard as he could until he felt it pop. He pulled it out of his pocket and thought “Oh s—, that was really stupid.” Perhaps he had tempted fate, as he always kind of showed off about his iPhone 5 working fine and being in perfect nick. Now it is slowly falling apart. He has to keep poking the button at the bottom back in and bits of glass scrape his cheek as he puts it to his ear. He is due for an upgrade, but has been really busy and hasn’t got his act together to go and get one yet.
A Catalogue of Misfortune is available from samhodge.co.uk for £25