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What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function? A document has trouble defining itself.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymo-logical origin derives from 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 acted upon 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 Gittelman 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.
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 May 2021.
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).
A 250 meter walk away from the seaside. A sign states in Dutch and French:
‘!!! NO PARKING !!!
Wrongly parked cars will be chained and only released upon payment of a € 40 parking fee’
The 40 EUR parking fee the sign threatens to charge is communicated by a relatively new sticker stuck on an older sign. Underneath the three black characters (€, 4 and 0) on a white background, there’s a relief: 7 characters declaring a parking fee of 1500 BEF.
1500 BEF equals 37,18 EUR1. In changing currency, the fee increased by 7,58%.
The Belgian franc was the currency of the Kingdom of Belgium from 1832 until 2002 when the Euro was introduced. 1 EUR is worth 40,3399 BEF.
In the archive of the architect O. Clemminck, there is a piece of a plan of a building in a suburb in Gent. It presents the ground floor. There is a kitchen, a salon, an eating place, a meeting place. The missing part would have stated the exact address, the name, and maybe the profession of the owners. The plan of the first floor might have given an indication of the number of (anticipated) family members, based on the number and size of sleeping rooms.
At the southern edge of (the plan of) the lot, O. Clemminck has drawn a laundry room that gives out to a vérandah. The spelling of the Dutch word – nowadays written as veranda – is remarkable, as is its etymology, which is unclear and a matter of debate among scholars. The word might have Portuguese (varanda: railing) and Catalan roots (baranda: barrier), maybe also origins in the Lithuanian Žemaitan dialect (varanda: loop plaited from flexible wings) and might also be traced back to a Sanskrit root (varandaka: rampart separating two fighting elephants).
The vérandah O. Clemminck proposes is 2,40 meters by, at least, 2,80 meters.
What they took for ice that slid down the dam’s slope, appears to be the reason for draining the reservoir: a fissure in the watertight layer. The dam became unreliable.
On January 23, 2020 a young couple walks around the drained reservoir of Kruth-Wildenstein.
It’s freezing. They’re expecting their first child within a month.
Seven years after the devastating flood, in 1954, the building of the dam is decided upon. Between 1959 and 1963 the infrastructure is built, and the reservoir gets filled with water in 1964 to act as a buffer for sudden floods and to guarantee a flowing Thur through the highly industrialized area downstream.
December, 1947. Rapid snowmelt coincides with torrential precipitation. At the bottom of the Thur valley, in Wildenstein, the water gathers.
The building is almost finished. One apartment is still up for sale, on the top floor. The contractor is finishing up. There’s a long list of comments and deficiencies that need to be addressed before the building can be handed over definitively to the owner. The elevator’s walls are protected by styrofoam to prevent squares, levels, measures, drills, air compressors, chairs, bird cages, etc. from making scratches on the brand new wooden panelling.
In 1932 Brassaï began taking photographs of graffiti scratched into walls of Parisian buildings. On his long walks he was often accompanied by the author Raymond Queneau, who lived in the same building but on a different floor. Brassaï published a small collection of the photographs in Minotaure, illustrating an article titled ‘Du mur des cavernes au mur d’usine’ [‘From cave wall to factory wall’].
I recognized it in a flash, the late Jurassic-early Cretaceous herbivore looming dangerously over the road I was cycling on. I thought of Some Windy Trees.1
A utility pole (425638, 07/99, 07/2002, COBRA), electrical wires, a hawthorn (Crataegus) and an old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba). A symbiosis.
brouck, V. Some Windy Trees. Loupoigne: Wilderness, 2013.
A cigar box, standing at the back of a shelf next to the heating installation, with in it silex-like stones with what seem to be traces of prehistoric usage.
In the garage, there were papers (the archive of O. Clemminck) and objects (stones, tiles) left to us by a man who had worked at the city archive. He was an acclaimed expert on our village’s history.1
A recent study by professor Philippe Crombé at Ghent University states that during the last Ice Age, in the region where I grew up, there was once a great lake, with, at the shores, proven presence of prehistoric man. As a kid, we dug up shells with a toothbrush, and set a perimeter with plastic tape. The former presence of a tavern where my parents now live, and the restaurant which still serves seafood at the other side of the road, prevented accurate dating.
‘ORIGINAL. Rire de tout ce qui est original, le haïr, le bafouer, et l’exterminer si l’on peut.’
[‘ORIGINAL. Laugh with everything that’s original, hate it, scold it, exterminate it if you can.’]
Flaubert. Bouvard et Pécuchet (présenté par Raymond Queneau). Paris: Livre de poche, 1959 (with p. 232-233: dried leaf of a ginkgo tree, and p. 324-325: dried leaf of a birch tree), p. 429 [2,00 EUR, Librairie Vic-sur-Cère, August 2021].
Conducting research into the effects on energy consumption of blockchain-based applications such as bitcoin, I was triggered by the fact that many of the facilities making blockchain-mining1 possible are located in Georgia. Low energy prices and a relaxed taxation policy are said to be among the reasons why companies such as Bitfury locate their plants there.
After a three-day hike in the Caucasus Mountains, on the Georgian side of the border with Chechnya, we are invited to pitch our tent in the garden of Murati, a local farmer in a small mountain village. We are overwhelmed by the scenery and Murati’s hospitality. Many of the villages, thrown on the mountain flanks, have tower-like structures of some twenty meters high, making them all look fortified. They have no windows or doors on the ground floor.2
Murati invites us into his house to drink warm milk with his family and brings us cheese-filled bread. One of us speaks Russian. He inspects our backpacks, headlights and drinking bags. He tells us a 500 kilogram pig of his did not return to the house that night. The family is saddened.
In the evening, we see him taking his granddaughter by the hand. They walk to the highest point of the gravel road in front of his house and together watch the last light of the day fall on the snow-covered triangular peak of one of the Caucasus’ highest mountains.
I’m mistrusting my memory and look the passage up in the journal we kept. The village is called Zagar. The mountain is Mount Tetnuldi. The granddaughter’s name is Anna.
When I click through to one of the websites promising information on Georgia’s blockchain economy, I happen to stumble on a dark web-related website and access is denied.3
‘Mining’ is what is being done when data – a transaction – has to be added to the blockchain (which, in itself, is the sum of all previous transactions, added to each other as data). To do this, computers have to solve a complex mathematical puzzle, which is crucial for the trustworthiness of the system, but for which loads of energy is needed. Criticism on the effects of blockchain-mining is growing, as it has a gruesome effect on resources. In 2018, Andrew North writes, Bitfury used 28 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, equalling the consumption of 120,000 Georgian households.
Article 75 of the Royal Decree containing general regulations for road traffic and the use of public roads, published in Het Belgisch Staatsblad on 9 December 1975, lists the rules for longitudinal markings indicating the edge of the roadway.
According to 75.1, there are two types of markings that indicate the actual edge of the roadway: a white, continuous stripe and a yellow interrupted line. The former is mainly used to make the edge of the roadway more visible; the latter indicates that parking along it is prohibited.
In 75.2, the decree focuses on markings that indicate the imaginary edge of the roadway. Only a broad, white, continuous stripe is permitted for this purpose. The part of the public road on the other side of this line is reserved for standing still and parking, except on motorways and expressways.
The oldest coin in the collection has darkened over time, but upon inspection, the text ‘AD USUM BELGII AUSTR’ (left) and the contours of a (female) head (right) can be discerned. A quick search learns it stems from the middle of the 18th century. The coin was made and used in the Austrian Netherlands, reigned by Maria Theresa, who is the one depicted. My mother recollects finding it in the backyard when she was a kid.
About 40 years later, the euro was introduced. The ringbinder with my mother’s coin collection was taken from the shelf. A dilemma came to the fore: we wondered if we should keep one of each existing Belgian coin and banknote and put them in the binder, alongside Maria Theresa, or if we should exchange them for the new European currency. The decision to keep a coin of five Belgian francs was not difficult to make, but as the amount raised, the answer was increasingly hard to give. This was an assessment of the old currency’s emotional and projected historical value, compared to its current financial worth. It was a decision based on investment principles.
To accentuate the value of the Maria Teresa kronenthaler of 1 liard, I put the coin on a pile of red post-it-notes when photographing it. Coins like these are sold on eBay for prices ranging from 0,70 euros to 16 euros.
This is the spread one sees upon opening the bird field guide that once stood, as the stamp indicates, in the library of a psychiatric institution.1 It shows birds’ silhouettes, as they can be seen beside the road.
The drawing has a kind of Hitchcock feel to it.2 The birds seem to be spying on each other, as they also seem to be spying on the unsuspecting passer-by.
The composition of the scene is marvelous. The electric wires, the tree, the wire fence, the double framed list with the birds’ names, handsomely positioned in a birdless patch, at once superimposed on the telephone wires, and pushed to the background by the skylark.
Imagine seeing this scene. What are the odds: to see the silhouettes of Europe’s twenty most common species of birds in one glance, from your car’s window, as you are driving home at dusk.
Before closing the book, the last spread seems to show the birds fleeing, maybe attacking.3
The stamp indicates that, at the psychiatric institution, the book was part of the sublibrary for the Catholic Brothers of Charity. The crossed-out part indicates that there was also a separate physicians’ library, to which the book might have originally belonged.
On the web, discussions on whether Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) was shot in colour or in black and white, abound.
Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. & P.A.D. Hollom. Vogelgids voor alle in ons land en overig Europa voorkomende vogelsoorten (J. Kist, transl.). 3d ed. Amsterdam/Brussels: Elsevier, 1955.
On the second to last day of a research visit at CERN, there was some spare time in the schedule. I took a long walk towards building 282 in search of some excavation samples: cylindrical pieces of rock that were preserved when the tunnel was dug, glued to a block of wood and frequently exhibited in museums over the last three decades as material evidence of the earthwork and as a witness to the depth. The route led me along the back of building 363 where the wind caused young trees – now gone – to scuff the facade over time.
First published in: De Cleene, M. Reference Guide. Amsterdam: Roma Publications, 2019, as W.569.EXC CERN, Towards Building 282, in search of excavation samples
[The man points at the waybill1 on the floor behind the glass door that closes off the abandoned and dismantled hall.]
‘It used to be here, I’m sure.’
[He looks around.]
[He turns towards me.]
‘Are you also here for the Leen Bakker?2 This used to be a Leen Bakker. I just looked it up on their website. They are open from 9 to 6 today.’
[He points at the waybill again.]
‘It was here. I remember well. It’s been years. But it’s here.’
[He walks away.]
‘I’ll look around.’
The waybill documents the transport of a 30m3 container filled with approximately 5000 kg of waste from this branch of Leen Bakker to a scrap processing company in nearby Ninove. They take care of scrap, both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. They also have a recognized depollution center for end-of-life vehicles.
A chain of furniture and interior stores with branches in the Netherlands, Belgium and the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.