In 1994, Philip Zimmerman was one of a group of artists invited by the Smithsonian libraries to respond creatively to that collection in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology known as “Heralds of Science.” This collection consists of two hundred works selected as the most significant titles in the development of Western technology. Artists were invited to choose one publication to serve as the subject of an artist’s book. From among an impressive grouping of authors including Galileo, Da Vinci, and Descartes, Zimmerman chose De Magnete, a 16th century Latin text by William Gilbert, an English physicist, natural philosopher and detractor of Aristotelian philosophy. Believed to be the very first treatise on magnetism, De Magnete attracted Zimmerman for its analogy to what he termed “the mystery of personal attraction.” In Elektromagnetism Zimmerman uses the positive and negative poles of a magnet as a metaphor to depict the mystery of male-female attraction. The artist used De Magnete as one magnetic pole in a visual evocation of this metaphor. As the opposite magnetic pole he used Instantaneous Personal Magnetism, “a wonderful and laughable 'snake oil' book and a great counterpoint to Gilbert's text which rails against superstitions and unfounded false science” by Edmund Shaftesbury, a 19th century quack doctor. The positive and negative magnetic poles are separated by a long accordion structure, stretching out to ten feet when opened. The hand cut segments of Zimmerman’s book resemble the zig-zag formation of a bolt of lightning, a further illusion to the electric connotations of romantic magnetism.
Composed on a Macintosh Quadra 840 av computer using Adobe Photoshop and Quark Xpress programming, Zimmerman’s computerized images project a post-apocalyptic future in which the mysteries of attraction are upended.