ELEKTROMAGNETISM  Philip       Zimmermann  (1995)

In 1994, a number of artists' book-makers, I think 27 or 28, were asked by artist-curator Carol Barton along with the head of the Smithsonian Libraries, to participate in a project that would end up as a show at the Smithsonian in 1995. The Smithsonian owned the famous Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. They asked the artists to pick one of the books and make an artists' book work that responded to the original scientific work. The Dibner Collection was quite incredible and included more than 200 original texts from such diverse people such as Descartes, Galileo, Da Vinci, Madame Curie and many more. If we could get to the Smithsonian, we could make an appointment to come and look and handle the original work, or we could use a hardbound book published by the Smithsonian called Heralds of Science that had every work listed and illustrated. They sent each of us a copy. The new work could be a unique book or an editioned piece. 


I picked De Magnete, the first treatise on magnetism, which was written by the brilliant 16th century scientist and physician William Gilbert. He was the first person to do regular scientific laboratory experiments and coined the word 'electricity'. William Glibert's 1600 book De Magnete is considered one of the greats of scientific literature. Not only is it important for it's discussion of Gilbert's discoveries concerning electricity and magnetism, but it was one of the very first books that set forth the importance of scientific testing methods to prove hypothesis. Gilbert even put different size asterisks in the margins to show which contained new information that he had discovered and proven through experimentation. I was astonished to find that an English translation from the Latin was still in print and published by Dover Books. This allowed me easy access to the text.


I decided to use the poles of a magnet (positive and negative) as a metaphor for male-female relations and the mystery of personal attraction, using quotes from another book written by a 19th century quack 'doctor' named Edmund Shaftesbury called The Cultivation of Personal Magnetism. I also used another of Shaftesbury's books, Instantaneous Personal Magnetism as inspiration. Professor Shaftesbury discusses how one can develop one's personal magnetism by various means including "mental magnitude", the "magnetic eye and voice" and "magnetic health and healing". There is even a discussion of magnetic foods and diet. It's a wonderful and laughable 'snake oil' book and a great counterpoint to Gilbert's text which rails against superstitions and unfounded "false science". I tried to use these two polar opposite (pun intended) views and texts along with some additional background scientific information on electromagnetic attraction as a metaphor for why humans are attracted to each other. The book Elektromagnetism was the result. The scientific literature, including De Magnete, is full of useful gender related terms.


The resulting accordion book was shaped like a long electrical or lightning bolt. The dimensions closed are 5.5" x 16" x .25" but stretch out to ten feet when opened. The book was composed on a Macintosh Quadra 840av personal computer in Barrytown NY using Adobe Photoshop and Quark Xpress. It was digitally printed by IRIS printer by Cone Editions in East Topsam, Vermont, on Rives BFK and then coated with a UV protective substrate. I had originally planned on producing an edition of 100 but only about 20 were produced because of the extraordinary cost of the IRIS printing which was about $250 per book. IRIS has since gone out of business and there are no IRIS printers still functioning and no available spare parts available.



















Click thumbnails to view the full scale detail photo: