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What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymological origin is the Latin ‘documentum’, meaning ‘lesson, proof, instance, specimen’. As a verb, it is ‘to prove or support (something) by documentary evidence’, and ‘to provide with documents’. The online version of the OED includes a draft addition, whereby a document (as a noun) is ‘a collection of data in digital form that is considered a single item and typically has a unique filename by which it can be stored, retrieved, or transmitted (as a file, a spreadsheet, or a graphic)’. The current use of the noun ‘document’ is defined as ‘something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc.’ (emphasis added).
Both ‘something’ and that first ‘etc.’ leave ample room for discussion. A document doubts whether it functions as something unique, or as something reproducible. A passport is a document, but a flyer equally so. Moreover, there is a circular reasoning: to document is ‘to provide with documents’. Defining (the functioning of) a document most likely involves ideas of communication, information, evidence, inscriptions, and implies notions of objectivity and neutrality – but the document is neither reducible to one of them, nor is it equal to their sum. It is hard to pinpoint it, as it disperses into and is affected by other fields: it is intrinsically tied to the history of media and to important currents in literature, photography and art; it is linked to epistemic and power structures. However ubiquitous it is, as an often tangible thing in our environment, and as a concept, a document deranges.
the-documents.org continuously gathers documents and provides them with a short textual description, explanation,
or digression, written by multiple authors. In Paper Knowledge, Lisa Gitelman paraphrases ‘documentalist’ Suzanne Briet, stating that ‘an antelope running wild would not be a document, but an antelope taken into a zoo would be one, presumably because it would then be framed – or reframed – as an example, specimen, or instance’. The gathered files are all documents – if they weren’t before publication, they now are. That is what the-documents.org, irreversibly, does. It is a zoo turning an antelope into an ‘antelope’.
As you made your way through the collection,
the-documents.org tracked the entries you viewed.
It documented your path through the website.
As such, the time spent on the-documents.org turned
into this – a new document.
This document was compiled by ____ on 03.02.2022 16:42, printed on ____ and contains 15 documents on _ pages.
the-documents.org is a project created and edited by De Cleene De Cleene; design & development by atelier Haegeman Temmerman.
the-documents.org has been online since 23.05.2021.
At a dental practice, the white Alligat®-powder is mixed with the right amount of water to get a mouldable dough that is pressed upon a patient’s teeth. After thirty seconds, the Alligat®-dough stiffens and takes on a rubber-like quality. At that point, still white, it must be removed from the patient’s mouth. Over the next few hours, the mould turns increasingly pink as the substance becomes less humid. Now, it can be used as a mould to create a positive master cast of the patient’s teeth.
Outside the dental practice, the powder’s possibilities remain to be fully explored.
First published as part of De Cleene De Cleene. ‘Amidst the Fire, I Was Not Burnt’, Trigger (Special issue: Uncertainty), 2. FOMU/Fw:Books, 25-30
The road down from the top of Mount Vesuvius, at Atrio Del Cavallo. The sun sets. The last tourist bus has headed down. Then the headlights of the guardian’s car swing their way down. It must be freezing. I am holding an orange-sized piece of petrified lava, probably stemming from the 1872 or 1944 eruption. A kilometer further down the road, the old Observatory is empty. Nowadays, monitoring seismic changes is done in a research centre in the city of Naples. Their seismographic registrations can be followed online, in real time. Two headlights swirling along the slopes, underneath me, are coming upwards.
A white Mercedes van inserts in front of me in a traffic jam near Antwerp. The back of the van has been altered in several ways: a latch was added to the door,1 a footstep was bolted to the bumper, a couple of tie-wraps are holding up the lights on the left side.2 Traffic is moving slow. There is no Mercedes logo.3 Some parts have been retouched with white paint that differs slightly from the rest of the bodywork,4 not unlike a tipp-ex’ed document.
Maybe the original locking mechanism no longer functions, or, perhaps, the owner wants to add a padlock to the doors at night.
Maybe a corroded screw caused the lights to come loose, or a slight collision.
Someone might have stolen it. Mercedes stars are often stolen, although mostly from the hood.
Maybe to counter corrosion, to conceal a mark someone made on the van or to cover up a fixed dent.
Legislation concerning the publication of someone else’s licence plate on the internet and the demand to blur it, is somewhat ambiguous.
Five white boulders close off a shortcut for motorists who attempt to cut the bend in the road. The southernmost roof’s pitch runs opposite to the landscape’s slope. The lower roofline is, therefore, only about one meter above a small, triangular patch of grass which is hidden from view by a hedge. In summer, when the roofing gets hot and soft, text and drawings get pressed or carved into it.
When I grew up, my parents told me that the number of raisins in the local baker’s raisin bread attested to the result of the most recent soccer match of KAA Gent. A victory was celebrated by throwing more raisins into the dough than usual, a loaf following a painful loss was hardly a raisin bread at all.
The baker retired long ago. Today my two-year-old son picked out all the raisins from his slice of bread. KAA Gent’s last game was a tie against Union.
Belgium, approximately 1.5km from the French border, photograph made on 16.06.2018.
The European flag symbolises both the European Union and, more broadly, the identity and unity of Europe. It features a circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background. They stand for the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of member countries, though the circle is a symbol of unity.1
‘The masons in training pour a concrete slab and build four walls upon it in a stretcher bond. Then the block comes to our department and the students in the course Electrical installer (residential) can grind channels and drill cavities in it.’
‘It’s not always a success from the outset, but they learn quickly.’
‘Never grind horizontally, always vertically. Diagonally if there is no other way.’
‘Two fingers wide.’
‘After this it goes to the sanitary department. After the bell drilling, the demolition hammer follows and the masons make us a new block.’
Competentiecentrum VDAB, Wondelgem, July 2019.
First published in A+ Architecture in Belgium, A+ 279, Schools (August, September 2019), https://www.a-plus.be/nl/tijdschrift/schools
Most mornings I eat three slices of bread. I stack them. Between the highest slice and the one in the middle I put a slice of cheese (young Gouda). I put the whole in the microwave1 for 1 minute and 50 seconds. The result is what I like to call a smelteram2.
On the morning of my thirty-second birthday the plate broke in half during heating.
A contraction of smelten (Dutch for melting) and boterham (Dutch for a slice of bread).
(transcript CNN Saturday morning news, Aired September 21, 2002 – 07:32 ET)
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O’BRIEN, CNN AnchorNow this Astronomy Picture of the Day goes back as far as the popularization of the Internet. The discovery of what is now Netscape, if you will. Let’s take a look at the guys behind it. It’s an art gallery of astronomy, featuring explosive supernovas, deep black holes, flaring comets, and breathtaking earth views.
O’BRIEN(voice-over) Every day since the web was in its infancy, two enthusiastic astronomers have posted a new image to Astronomy Picture of the Day.
ROBERT J. NEMIROFF, NASA Astrophysicist
I think that a lot of these would look great in a gallery. They’re very different, there’s a lot of different colors involved, there’s a lot of different contrasts, a lot of different textures. And, it has the added bonus of being scientifically interesting. It’s scientifically true.
O’BRIENRobert Nimiroff and Jerry Donnell (ph) choose the images based on their educational value, newsworthiness, or just plain beauty.
I mean, there’s a ‘wow’ factor here. I usually know within a second or two of seeing a picture whether it’s a sure thing for The Astronomy Picture of the Day, because I just say ‘Wow, what is going on there?’
O’BRIENEvery image is archived on the site. Underneath each picture is a brief explanation so that the site is not just eye candy but educational, as well. Including images that give us a new perspective.
Recently, people put together a bunch of pictures from the moon in this great panorama. You can look all the way around in the circle and see what the astronauts saw. The face on Mars, which the best explanation is, it’s just a rock formation, but there’s a lot of conspiracy people out there who think it’s more, and the picture of the earth at night. And, I think it’s one of our most popular images.
O’BRIENSome images come from telescopes around the world. Others from the Hubble Telescope, peering deep into space. Others, from amateur photographers, an artist’s renditions of black holes too distant for detail.
And you can just look at it and feel that you’re there.
O’BRIENMany people take the images from the site and post them as wallpaper on their computers, or, create a slideshow screensaver.
Our biggest demographic is the intelligent professional who works at some company and has a computer on the desk, has a web browser, and they check us out. We’ve got e-mail that we’re many people’s morning cup of coffee.
O’BRIENWhether you’re a space junkie or just enjoy looking up at the sky, Astronomy Picture of the Day is worth the visit.
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap950616.html (original post: June 16, 1995)
In the introduction to her book Qu’est-ce que la documentation?, French ‘documentalist’ Suzanne Briet asks what a document is. In a scrappy scan of her book I found online I am highlighting almost everything she writes. Is a star a document? Briet says it isn’t. But the catalogues and photographs of stars are. When I quickly opened the file with Apple’s ‘Preview’ application to check the above paraphrase, the highlighted sentences were illegible.
Briet is cited in Lisa Gitelman’s Paper Knowledge (2014).
Briet, S. Qu’est-ce que la documentation? Paris: Edit, 1951. Online: http://martinetl.free.fr/suzannebriet/questcequeladocumentation/briet.pdf
A year ago, mid-August, just before sunrise, the mostly unlit office buildings line the road that leads to the underground parking. I turn off the ignition. I’m in F36. The walls are painted pink. Looking for the exit, I take the escalator and get stuck in an empty shopping mall. The music is playing but all the shops are closed off with steel shutters. So are the exits. I’m out of place. In keeping early customers out, the mall is keeping haphazard visitors in. I’m back in the parking lot. The elevator is broken. I take the stairs and walk by a homeless man, sleeping. There’s shit on the floor. I open the door that leads out of the stairwell. It slams shut behind me. There’s no doorknob. I find myself on a dark floor between mall and parking lot. People are sleeping; some are awake. Heads turn toward me. I start walking slightly uphill towards where I think I might find an exit, or an entrance. The scale of the architecture has shifted from car (F36) and customer (the closed mall) to truck. I find myself amidst the supply-chain. It takes five minutes, maybe fifteen, maybe more to get out and see the office buildings towering over me in the first light of day.
All chairs are empty, but all face something different. The bottom photograph shows empty chairs facing empty desks. In the middle picture, empty chairs face each other (underneath the inaudible sound of the cinema above). In the top photograph, the chairs seem to be facing the photographer. However, the altar’s in front of the photographer. He stands at the back of the provisional church. The chairs face the photographer and have turned their backs to the altar.
Revue Héraclite, 5 (1), april 1936, p. 7, paper, from the archive of architect O. Clemminck.
The Authenticity bunkered crude fuel in the Panama Bay. She navigated back and forth between the artificial island Isla Melones and ships leaving or waiting to enter the Panama Canal. On February 14th 2015 she had been moored for a couple of days near the Centennial bridge when the AIS-transponder momentarily signalled the ship’s position in the woods of the Bosque Protector de Arraiján. Afterwards no signal of the ship was received for 41 days, until she reappeared near the port of Bahia Las Minas, at the other side of the Panama Canal.
First published in: De Cleene, M. Reference Guide. Amsterdam: Roma Publications, 2019
Marine Traffic, Authenticity (Caribe Trader, PA), latest position, 09°01’40,71” N 79°38’18,59”W, viewed 14.02.2015, http://www.marinetraffic.com
On a pile of fresh hospital sheets, near the radiator, the tangerine curtains and the black marble window sill (the window looks out over the parking lot), underneath the two-day-old bouquet of flowers and next to a pile of magazines with a handwritten note on top (about a syrup that relieves slime and tastes like oranges), lie two sheets of paper.
Earlier that day the physiotherapist had come by. Twice. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. He had each time drawn the first line, as an example. A straight line in the morning, a curvy line in the afternoon.
With a ballpoint pen my grandfather, who is recovering from an accident, diligently copied the examples (31 in the morning, 5 in the afternoon).
It must have been four or five years ago, that I noticed the change in Tabasco’s® up until then stable, unchanged and thus kind of unfashionable presence in supermarkets (vinegar section). On one of the box’s sides, there had always been a photograph of a man, clipboard in hand, looking upwards to a huge wooden barrel full of Tabasco®. He was inspecting something, from the outside, writing it down.
A couple of years ago, the man disappeared from the packaging. I think he was replaced by a pizza (as one of the suggestions for using Tabasco® on, besides on hashed meat (with an egg yolk, fries and lettuce) and spaghetti bolognese) or a black-and-white image of a part of an oak barrel. It is unclear who is inspecting the barrels now.