Sara Langworthy, “On Physical Lines”

These are the first two pages of the book. Preceding front matter includes a spread of power lines printed in photopolymer (recto) and linoleum (verso), half title, title page, and an epigraph from James Clerk Maxwell: “We shall find that it is the peculiar function of physical science to lead us, by the steps of rigid demonstration, to the confines of the incomprehensible, and to encourage us to apply our minds to that which we do not yet understand, since it is only to those who labour patiently and think steadily, that such mysteries are ever opened.”

Second page spread, Part One.

Towards the end of Part One. The lines on the verso are printed from photopolymer, the solids on the recto are printed from linoleum.

This spread is toward the beginning of Part Three. The firm margins established in Parts One and Two are beginning to shift and break.

This spread is towards the end of Part Three. The solid blocks of color are keeping with the fore edge margins, but move off the top of the page completely. The printed lines no longer follow any rules and they move towards both the future and the past. The page spread that follows this is the final one of the book, and all margins are completely broken. The first line from the book, “Every place where we find lines of force some physical state of action must exist” is printed on the final page.


Sara Langworthy (Iowa City, Iowa)

On Physical Lines
letterpress, photopolymer, linoleum, handset Univers type, Simplified binding
Edition of 25
Pages: 44
Dimensions open: 13.25 x 17.5 x 1/2 in.
Dimensions closed: 13.25 x 8.75 x 3/8 in.

In On Physical Lines, prints of drawings of power lines are paired with sentences excerpted from the paper “On Physical Lines of Force,” written by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861. Presented in fragments, Maxwell’s reconfigured words narrate positions of questioning and dissatisfaction as constructive conditions of the creative process. Before it was a book, On Physical Lines was a series of drawings of power lines. In an effort to articulate what I was drawn to with these images, I read broadly in the area of history of electricity. This led me to James Clerk Maxwell and his paper. I was immediately struck by phrases that seemed to speak directly to my drawings of the power lines: Lines of force as something real, the lines avoid each other and are dispersed into space… there was poetry woven into Maxwell’s rational intellectual search. In Maxwell’s text there is a strong sense of an individual working through an idea, struggling with the act of questioning while in a state of uncertainty. It is this state I explore in On Physical Lines. The place where what is searched for bumps up against what is already known, what is known is not quite right, and this sends you back to the starting point. To consider getting stuck and being dissatisfied as a productive and creative force. Thinking through ideas can be frustrating, boring, repetitive. But ultimately that search is the point of everything. On Physical Lines celebrates the search, the false starts, the returns to the drawing board.

The book is composed of three parts. Rigid margins are established in Parts One and Two. At the end of Part Two, the lines begin to break out of their boundaries. At the end of Part Three, the margins are breached on all sides. The book closes with the same sentence it began with (Every place where we find lines of force some physical state of action must exist). The words are the same, but all other accepted systems and understandings have shifted.