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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 17.10.2022 14:18, printed on ____ and contains 28 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.
In the philosophy aisle of the largest used and remaindered book shop in the city — which is a regular stop on my lunchbreak walks to escape the dreariness of my office job — that particular day a set of books caught my eye. They were four copies of the same edition of a title I had never had any inclination to read. It was the near-uniformity of the four books that made them stand out. Upon closer inspection, there were two more copies of two other editions of the book on the shelf.
It was immediately apparent to me that only three minor moves were required to bring the six copies together on the shelf, and to arrange the four copies of the same edition so that the level of sun fading of their spines would make their lettering form a white to dark pink gradient. I could think of no shade of the letters that would tastefully match the very light blue of the rest of the spine, which had remained relatively uniform across the four copies.
After having moved the books, I took a photograph of them with the camera in my smartphone.
It occurred to me only afterwards that while handling the books I had not leafed through them.
Some days later, going through my photo folder, I came across the picture I had taken to document my somewhat neurotic but oddly satisfying action and noticed that the camera had been in square mode and that the photo was blurry. I have not yet gone back to take a better picture.
David Depestel hesitates in trying to make something of himself; a character, a profession, a fixed mode of being, are for him concepts that already shadow forth the outlines of the skeleton, which is all that will be left of him in the end.
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.
I bought my son a gift while abroad: a toy turtle named Essie whose perforated shield projects stars onto the ceiling in blue, green or amber. ‘8 actual star constellations’, the box proclaims.
The manual explains how to power up the turtle and what the four buttons on Essie’s back do. The small document (recto: Chinese, verso: English) concludes with some ‘Words from Little Turtle ESSIE’. In it the turtle shifts from direct speech to illeism1 and back.
The act of referring to oneself in the third instead of first person.
(‘Slice of more than three meters in diameter, sawn from a Mammoth-tree, given by California to the botanical garden of New York, and presented there’)
Thiery describes the ‘patriarchs’ of the plant world. This slice of a Sequoia, which fell in 1917 in Yosemite National Park, is 1694 years old. A woman of the New York Botanical Institue, where the slice of the patriarch is presented, counted the rings. If one would look at the picture with a magnifying glass, Thiery writes in a footnote, the reader (with good eyes and a fair amount of knowledge of the English language) would be able to read the labels indicating the important global events the tree witnessed. They are transcribed and translated by the author. The end of the Roman occupation of Great Britain. Columbus arriving in America. The Declaration of Independence. This is a lie: the text is illegible, even when using a magnifier.
In the photograph, the slice, as on view in the New York Botanical Institute, is presented upright. To prevent it from rolling away, two small triangular slices of wood were posited at the left and right side of the slice. The type of wood of these slices, nor the age of the patriarch from which they stem, are known.
Thiery, M. Het woud. Een proeve van plantenaardrijkskunde. Gent: De Garve, s.d., p. 59.
Besides the scale indicating the length in centimeters, and the marks made by using it, a folding ruler displays other marks. These are the marks found on the weber broutin www.weber-broutin.be folding ruler, from left to right:
Jolimont, December 2021. The place is in ruins. We occupy the domain with students of La Cambre in an attempt to practice ceramics with what is there. In the former ceramic atelier, we gather everything that was purposelessly there: a weird collection of things from the past, waiting to be organized, displayed, used or thrown away.
The firing tool was made to take out the accumulating ashes from the firebox, to keep the air flowing in the oven, raising the temperature, reaching our ceramic-making goal of 1150°C. Not very efficient, time or heat resistant, this savage, yet poetic composition barely survived the firing.
The wooden handle was borrowed from a broom.
The scraper is a fragment of a chandelier previously hanging in one of the salons.
The connecting element is an old electrical resistor we found in one of the dismantled ovens.
Clementine Vaultier’s interests, although trained as a ceramist, are in the warm surroundings of the fire rather than the production it engenders.
While calibrating their telescopes, or dealing with unforeseen, cloudy weather, amateur astronomers tend to trade the far for the not-so-far, and point their telescopes at their immediate surroundings.
Excerpt from Towards Civil Dusk (De Cleene De Cleene, 2020)
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
The previous owners of the house we moved into, left us a piece of a newspaper that was used to clad the wall at the time the building was built, and which they found when they renovated the house. The sport-section of the socialist newspaper Vooruit is dated 18 November 1931. It features articles on cycling and soccer. Recently, we noticed the plaster is coming off the wall in one corner of the living room. With sufficient rain, it might reveal other events that happened on that 1931 November Wednesday.
At the copyshop, on a shelf above photocopier 8, the lid of a box of paper serves as the container for ‘forgotten originals’.1
The book being copied: Didi-Huberman, G. La ressemblance par contact. Archéologie, anachronisme et modernité de l’empreinte. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2008.
Fairly detailed map of the two major marble quarries on the island of Tinos, Greece. The spontaneous route-advice was prepared by a local marble worker, P.D., in the Karia region of the island on a locally extracted, green marble slab. The waved lines represent roads traversing uphill, while the straight lines represent roads following a contour line of the topography.
‘Tell your friend that the wine is for girls; it’s very sweet,’ the marble worker alerted my travel companion K.S. after offering us local sweet wine. The workshop smelled like boiled meat and bones.
Notes on map from left to right, top to bottom:
Márk Redele pursues projects that fundamentally relate to architecture and its practice but rarely look like architecture. www.markredele.com
During the night, both of us get unwell. One of us is shaking, intensely and relentlessly. The windows are open. For minutes that seem to be hours, it feels like it’s freezing. We get extra blankets. Then, it gets too hot.
One of us dreams about coccodrillos. It starts out with a single animal, like the one we saw in the National Archaeological Museum, escaping from an aquarium, and ends with lots of little ones crawling all over the place. It’s impossible to know how many have escaped.
The other dreams about seismologist Luigi Palmieri’s unfortunate assistant and his family’s quest to redeem his good name. To deprive him of the burden and guilt set upon him by Luigi Palmieri’s report of the 1872 eruption of Vesuvius, the assistant’s offspring were building a monument just below the observatory in which their great-grandfather fell asleep. The monument was permanently, and continuously, unfinished.
We both dream of hearing fireworks in Naples.
In the morning, we’re slightly alarmed that we both got sick and feverish at the same instant. It’s the middle of January, and the weather has been summerlike all week. A gentle morning breeze flies in from the Neapolitan bay while we wait for the bus to take us to the airport.
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 GPS-plotter displays the ship near Keyhaven Lake, indefinitely. The sea appears calm, the horizon is level from one perspective.
The 48-inch Oschin Schmidt, a renowned reflecting telescope at Palomar Observatory, California, was used for the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS), published in 1958, one of the largest photographic surveys of the night sky.
Based on the man’s pipe shadow’s direction, thrown onto the telescope, there is reason to believe an off-camera flash was used to make the picture.
Due to strict regulations during the COVID-19-pandemic, the yearly vehicle inspection had to be scheduled by appointment. Getting ready to drive to the DMV, the car wouldn’t start. It had rained heavily, the preceding days. The day before the DMV-appointment, water had come running into the car on pushing the pedals. My socks were wet.
I called the DMV to say I needed to cancel the appointment and make a new one (but that the car, besides not being able to drive, was perfectly fine, vehicle-inspection-wise).
Later that day, we got the engine up and running again, using jumper cables and a second car, so we would be able to drive to meet the midwife the next day.
Renault Clio. Instructieboekje. 2012. PDF-file
An observer draws on experience, and instantly sees a female partridge. Cumulus clouds. The Southern pole star. It’s the ‘all-at-once-ness of virtuoso perception’, Lorraine Daston writes: ‘Sure, swift, and silent, “without pause for mental analysis,” observation is grounded in long familiarity with the phenomena in question, be they curlews or streptococcus bacteria’ (101).
Excerpt from Towards Civil Dusk (De Cleene De Cleene, 2020)
Daston, L. ‘On Scientific Observation’. Isis, 99 (1), 2008, 97-110.
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
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’].
When the Sun, the Earth and one of the outer planets of the Solar System perfectly align, with the Earth positioned in the middle, the outer planet is said to be ‘in opposition’. It’s a moment of planetary approach and of optimal viewing conditions: the Earth and the outer planet are at their closest and brightest.
Neptune in opposition [1-20] is part of ‘Documenting Objects’, a research project by Arnout De Cleene and Michiel De Cleene at KASK & Conservatorium, the school of arts of HOGENT and Howest. Their research is financed by the HOGENT Arts Research Fund. Previous research into this subject has amongst other things led to the documentary film Towards Civil Dusk (2020) and temporary public observatories at 019, Gent and Kunsthal Extra City, Antwerp.
A carving that looks like a stitched-up scar (a long, slightly curved line crossed at a right angle by eleven short straight lines) is inserted into a short statement about Celine and Logan. An initial of Celine’s last name is included. At first sight it looks like a ‘D’, but the line through the middle might just as well make it a ‘B’. Maybe it was Celine D who added the line in an attempt to convince those reading the roofing that it’s actually Celine B who blows Logan.
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.
A mostly empty book designed to collect cigar bands. The bands are glued to the paper at their left side, so the information on the backside, explaining the image and referring to the series it belongs to and the number of different labels the series contains, can be looked up. The book has complete and incomplete series on Christopher Columbus (complete), tanks (incomplete), the origins of civilization (complete), Ancient cultures (incomplete), fashion (complete), South-American sculptures (complete), Ancient columns (incomplete), Nobel Prize Winners (incomplete), an unclarified series of seven men, most of whom are ‘prof.’ or ‘dr.’(complete / incomplete), design plates (incomplete), famous Belgians (complete / incomplete), statesmen (incomplete) and football players (incomplete). The first page in the book is used to present two series. The left column presents the Egyptian dynasty (incomplete). The middle and right column present a series of bands by the brand Jubilé on the history of energy in telling scenes and pieces of machinery.
Middle column, top to bottom:
Right column, top to bottom:
The series is incomplete.2
The scene shows a man standing at a desk, sticking out his hand to an officer in a window that reads, in mirror writing: Customs.
On eBay a complete series is advertised (15 EUR), with a lo-res picture of the whole collection, including the five bands missing in my grandfather’s collection. The information on the back, however, is not given. It leads to a highly speculative history of energy.
A man in a gown watching a T-shaped object.
A child in a cellar, sitting on a stool at a table with gray objects.
A soldier kneeling beside a child, in front of a train, and in front of a boat.
A low table with a giant cartwheel of sorts and a box.
A vertical object with what seems to be a bell on top.
Holding two cans of spray paint, a city employee walks through a sweet chestnut grove on the graveyard. He’s looking for potholes.
I’m taking a scan of a family photo album given to me after my grandmother passed away, wanting to write something about the marvelous portraits inside. The genealogy is only partly clear to me: I recognize my dad as a kid, my uncle, my grandmother, her brother in the laboratory he (said he) ran. He smelled of cigars and severe perfume. The older photographs present people I don’t know, but must be my ancestors. My grandmother told me stories1 that, historically, reach further back than the figures I recognize in the photographs. There are no names and no dates in the album. The first two pictures seem to be the oldest ones.2 I retract them from the album pockets in which they were slid to check if something is written on the backside. When I take the album away from the scanner’s glass plate, particles of leather, gold varnish and sturdy cardboard come loose. I place a sheet of paper on the glass plate and press ‘scan’ again.
Once she (my grandmother) went home from school, sick, with her bicycle. She studied to become a nurse. The school was in Brussels, about 60 kilometers from her native village M. The milkman’s van tipping over in front of my grandmother’s parental house. A milk covered street. My great-grandfather, physician and mayor at M. Something happened during the Second World War having to do with telephones or radios when she was still a kid.
In Boarhunt, close to Winchester (UK), the fort houses the Royal Armouries’ artillery collection. It contains parts of the ‘Project Babylon’ space gun, the two part bronze Dardanelles Gun and a collection of French field guns, captured in Waterloo. On the lawn to the South of the fort two neat piles of fifteen1 36” shells flank a Mallet’s Mortar. Manufactured in 1857, the mortar remains unfired up to this day.2 In 1873, its inventor – the engineer and geophysicist Robert Mallet – publishes his translation of Luigi Palmieri’s Incendio Vesuviano. Before giving a lengthy account of his take on the present state of vulcanicity, he briefly introduces the famous Italian vulcanologist’s report: ‘The following Memoir of Signor Palmieri on the eruption of Vesuvius in April of this year (1872), brief as it is, embraces two distinct subjects, viz., his narrative as an eye-witness of the actual events of the eruption as they occurred upon the cone and slopes of the mountain, and his observations as to pulses emanating from its interior, as indicated by his Seismograph, and as to the electric conditions of the overhanging cloud of smoke (so called) and ashes, as indicated by his bifilar electrometer, both established at the Observatory.’
In the outskirts of East of London, along Repository road in Woolwich, the only other mortar of this type is installed. This particular one fired nineteen shells on three occasions. Each time resulting in a damaged mortar.
Screenshot taken from AbeBooks, where the first edition of The Eruption of Vesuvius in 1872 with Notes, and an Introductory Sketch on the Present State of Knowledge of Terrestrial Vulcanicity, the Cosmical Nature and Relations of Volcanoes and Earthquakes is listed for 1895,00 USD. https://www.abebooks.com/first-edition/Eruption-Vesuvius-1872.with-Notes-Introductory-Sketch/439314424/bd
Project Gutenberg’s The Eruption of Vesuvius in 1872, by Luigi Palmieri (translated by Mallet) can be found at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33483/33483-h/33483-h.htm
As an architectural structure, the pier is fundamental in observational astronomy: it can be found in the backyards of amateur observatories, as well as in professional ones. This column is a quintessential part of the physical interventions that are necessary to distinguish noise from valuable data. The pier disjoints the telescope from the observer, from the observatory and from the surroundings. Tremors of passing cars, the astronomer’s footsteps and coughs, the neighbour’s soundsystem: they could result in an agitated telescope. A falling mug would cause the instrument to shift lightyears away from its target.
In August 2019, I visited Chris De Pauw, an astrophotographer, at home. He showed me his private observatory. As we were both waiting for clouds to obscure the sun and get softer light for the photograph, he told me about the rolling shed, its advantages and the modifications he was planning on.
On closing the observatory – by rolling the shed over the instrument – he manoeuvred the instrument into its ‘park’-position: an azimuth of 160 degrees and an elevation of 8 degrees above the horizon. The shed’s doors and hinges barely cleared the telescope.
It snows on December 19, but the situation changes on the 22nd with the arrival of an Atlantic low-pressure area, bringing masses of hot and humid air. Thaw follows.
And then, it snows again on December 26 and 27, before the arrival of a new warm front on the same day. A significant and brutal rise in temperature ensues: at Lac Noir, at 920 m, the temperature shoots up from 0,3 °C on December 27 at 7 AM to 7,4 ° C on the 28th at 9 PM.
The car is parked on a gravel path, a few metres down from the small road crossing the village. It would be hopelessly stuck the next morning. While trying to capture Neptune through the rental telescope, I run back and forth between the tripod on the small lawn and the trunk several times to get other eyepieces and adapters.
I align the telescope, using three stars: Vega, Arcturus and Deneb.
I hear an animal. I look up and notice the interior light of the car has switched on.
A motorcycle around 3:14. The driver is shifting gears rapidly. I don’t see any headlights in the valley.
Fog sets in. Saturn practically disappears from sight. Jupiter appears as a blob.
I’m 380m above sea level. The highest hill in the area is barely 500m of height. Still, the fog and the settling dew, along with the nightly cold give it something strangely alpine.
The fog lifts.
I can still clearly see the ridge in the east. It should be darker.